That is the soul of creativity.
--Ai Wei Wei
We are all influenced by other artists. Art brings about art.
As I complete another year of blogging about art, I want to thank all the readers who have been accompanying me in my exploration of the heART of it. I enjoy reading and being stimulated by your comments. While I have many more photos from my travels as well as visits to exhibits, not to mention books to draw from, I'm going to end 2015 without a discussion. Instead, as we move into 2016, I offer a series of quotes to reflect on. May they inspire all of us to continue evolving in our creativity, however that manifests in our lives. I look forward to hearing from you in the new year.
The purpose of art is not to present something that's beautiful, but it is to force us to see the world in a new way, in a way we haven't yet done. --Stephen Batchelor
Art is both love and friendship and understanding: the desire to give. It is not charity, which is the giving of things. It is more than kindness, which is the giving of the self. It is both the taking and giving of beauty, the turning out to the light the inner folds of the awareness of the spirit. It is the recreation on another plane of the realities of the world; the tragic and wonderful realities of earth and men, and of all the interrelations of these. --Ansel Adams
Human beings want something beautiful to live with. That is not a shallow desire. It affects our well-being...We have the feeling that the world doesn't need artists because art doesn't meet our basic needs to survive. But that's not true...Even the most primitive cultures have decorative art. They always needed to...aestheticize and exteriorize their thoughts and feelings. --Beatriz Milhazes
Simplicity stands at the end, not at the beginning of a work. If education can lead us to elementary seeing, away from too much and too complex information, to the quietness of vision, and discipline of forming, it again may prepare us for the task ahead, working for today and tomorrow. --Anni Albers
Works of art are mirrors in which each person sees his own likeness.
The duty of the artist is to protect freedom of speech.
That is the soul of creativity.
--Ai Wei Wei
We are all influenced by other artists. Art brings about art.
And here's some delight sound art in the woods in Japan:
Comments to my posts generally get me wondering. One from the last post about "Why Make Art?" certainly did. It suggested the need to have "a meaningful definition of what constitutes art" before we can ask why we make art. Fair enough. I've addressed this issue before, as have philosophers and critics, who over the centuries have posited many theories. Creating a definition is truly a complex affair.
Cynthia Freeland, chair of the Department of Philosophy at the University of Houston, Texas, weighs in on it with her book But Is It Art?: An Introduction to Art Theory. At the outset, she states that "art" is a term that might not even be applicable in many cultures or eras, for it "has taken varied forms in distinct historical contexts....Ancient and modern tribal peoples would not distinguish art from artefact or ritual. Medieval European Christians did not make 'art' as such, but tried to emulate and celebrate God's beauty. In classical Japanese aesthetics, art might include things unexpected by modern Westerners, like a garden, sword, calligraphy scroll, or tea ceremony....High Islamic art includes not just calligraphy but also coins and carpets."
The word that sticks out for me is "garden." How often do people add "garden" to the list of painting, sculpture, and other arts? Yet Freeland points out that the intricate symbolic gardens of 17th- and 18th-century France were considered art, whereas landscape gardening is deemed more of a hobby or design practice today. English art historian, antiquarian, and politician Horace Walpole (1717-1797) identified gardening, along with poetry and painting, as one of the "three sisters or graces."
In Japan, a garden is "a living art form." I've visited many gardens in Japan, both dry landscape (karesansui ) created with rocks and those with trees, water, paths, waterfalls, and bridges. Every placement has a purpose and, for those in the know, a meaning. I enjoyed them for their beauty and tranquility.
After a dear friend passed away following a sustained effort to keep cancer at bay for years, I reflected on something she once told me. I used to marvel at how talented an artist she was in many mediums. In response to my admiration, she said, with some fervency, that everything she knew about color and design she had learned from creating gardens. I remember how much that struck me, for I had only ever cultivated vegetable gardens. I had never designed a garden with a conscious eye toward color, shape, height, and texture. But I have worked with a landscape gardener who, to me, is an artist in his own right. The results capture everyone's attention and praise. So when a friend and I launched a women's art salon in our community last year, we decided to invite someone who isn't a painter, graphic designer, ceramicist, sculptor, musician, or textile artist, but an esteemed gardener. We're all looking forward to viewing her "art" come springtime.
Perhaps John Ruskin's definition that fine art is that in which "the hand, the head, and the heart of [wo]man go together” and my cross-cultural experiences allow me to expand what I consider art. I don't care what contemporary pooh-bahs designate as art. I'll take an exquisite garden over Damien Hirst's creatures preserved in formaldehyde any day. But that doesn't mean I'm offering any definitive answer to "what is art?". Instead, we can agree or disagree with what's been said.
Noted American art critic and philosopher Arthur Danto (1924-2014) believed that American pop artist Andy Warhol (1928-1987) demonstrated that anything can be a work of art--even Campbell's soup cans and Brillo boxes--given the right situation and theory. People hold different things to be art in different eras and different areas of the world for different reasons. Danto is pluralistic in his approach: Art does not have to be a painting, a sculpture, a cathedral, a drama, or a garden. For him, "[n]othing is an artwork without an interpretation that constitutes it as such." Freeland adds that simply declaring that something is art "is not at all the same as saying that it is good art."
And therein lies yet another complex issue: What is good art?
Questions and Comments:
What gardens look like works of art to you?
Have gardens enabled you as an artist or has being an artist enabled you as a gardener?
Do you create gardens with an eye toward color, shape, texture, proportion, contrast or let anything grow willy-nilly?
Despite all the art I enjoyed in Korea and Japan during my fall trip--or maybe because of it--within a short time of arriving home, I was already off to Arts Benicia, located at the eastern end of San Francisco Bay. I went to view an exhibit because the title intrigued me: "Why Make Art?" I was curious to know how the show's 25 artists (portraits by co-curator and photographer Hedi B. Desuyo accompanied their statements) answered this question. I figured there would be at least 25 different responses along with some overlap. I wasn't wrong.
"Why Make Art?" is the same question that arises when we ask why our ancient ancestors painted figures on cave walls. What was the purpose, if any, behind them? Were they integral to a sacred ritual? Were they a message of some kind, a visual documentation, or simply a decoration? Or were they a statement of existence?: "I/we am/are here. This is my/our mark."
At Arts Benicia, I looked at the paintings, sculpture, fiber work, and assemblage and read the artists' thoughts and feelings about making art. Carol Dalton believes that it helps her to be her "truest and most complete self." It "challenges and stimulates [her] mind and senses and opens up a pathway towards enlightenment." This recalls what some artists in the twentieth century suggested about art and religion not being far apart. British painter Ben Nicholson (1894-1982), for example, opined, "As I see it, painting and religious experience are the same thing." In Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, Elizabeth Gilbert describes poet Jack Gilbert (1925-2012)--not her relative--as someone who "was called from an early age to write poetry. He became a poet the way other men become monks: as a devotional practice, as an act of love, and as a lifelong commitment to the search for grace and transcendence."
For other artists, the element of joy or pleasure plays a deciding role. Before she passed away, clay artist Katrina von Male (1934-2015) stated: "I'm happiest when I become lost in what I'm making."
Painter Mernie Buchanan seems to echo her words, but from a different stance and with wry humor: "I keep making art because people tell me my work makes them happy. This means I don't have to get a therapy license and a practical job."
Still other artists in the exhibit talk about art as a way to understand, express, and relate. Nikki Basch-Davis says that when her paintings are successful, they achieve her desire to connect emotionally with others. For sculptor Mary Oros, it is how she communicates best, and how she synthesizes what transpires in the world around her. Fiber artist Marty Jonas describes fiber as "an extension of my voice." Its tactile quality provides her with "the opportunity to speak visually that which [she] cannot express in words." This reminds me of something American artist Georgia O'Keeffe (1887-1986) wrote in a letter: “I found I could say things with color and shapes that I couldn’t say any other way--things I had no words for.”
Lee Wilder Snider strives to "reflect the beauty and vulnerability of our world...to remind the viewer of the awe and wonder in the commonplace, such as a stone in water, light through trees, or the playful patterns of fallen leaves." The act of painting expresses "life and meaning--here and now." Similarly, for William Harsh (1953-2012), "painting, drawing, and printmaking were the most vivid and necessary ways to grasp, reflect and represent the world as he inwardly experienced its realities." Lisa Reinertson, who sculpts with clay to highlight the importance of our interconnectedness with other animals and Nature, is clear that making art is the vehicle through which she can translate what she observes, thinks, and feels.
John Jonas subscribes to the idea that we are creative by nature: "the desire and ability to make things, to improve...and to modify things" is hard-wired in our DNA because it's probably crucial to our survival.
I agree with these various responses, among others, and know there's truth in them. I don't think there's only one reason why any of us is involved in art-making. Some of us begin to feel funky when we're not creatively engaged, as though something were missing. Creating is how we indulge our curiosity, leading us to explore, experiment, discover, and expand. Knowing how much I am touched, stimulated, informed, inspired, enlivened, and delighted when I view, feel, read, or hear diverse forms of art, I, too, want to provide such experiences for others. Along with the frustrations and failures inherent in the territory of making art, there's also playfulness and fun. And there's tremendous fulfillment and satisfaction when we embody our possibilities. As Jack Ruszel puts it, "It feels like sculpting is what I'm supposed to be doing."
Although I'm not describing what each and every one of the 25 artists expressed, it's clear that many espouse similar reasons. But what none of them pointed out is a "magical" phenomenon that Gilbert posits in Big Magic. It feels familiar to my own experience of being compelled, at times, to create certain works, whether with words or textiles. This is how she envisions creativity, and she makes no apology for not sounding rational or scientific:
I believe that our planet is inhabited not only by animals and plants and bacteria and viruses, but also by ideas. Ideas are a disembodied, energetic life-form. They are completely separate from us, but capable of interacting with us--albeit strangely. Ideas have no material body, but they do have consciousness, and they most certainly have will. Ideas are driven by a single impulse: to be made manifest. And the only way an idea can be made manifest in our world is through collaboration with a human partner. It is only through a human's efforts that an idea can be escorted out of the ether and into the realm of the actual.
Therefore, ideas spend eternity swirling around us, searching for available and willing human partners...When an idea thinks it has found somebody--say, you--who might be able to bring it into the world, the idea will pay you a visit...try to wave you down...not leave you alone until it has your fullest attention.
So maybe we create art because certain ideas simply grab hold of us and won't let go until we make them visible, tactile, or audible. It's an idea worth considering, along with all the others.
Questions and Comments:
Why do you make art?
Which of the responses resonate with your own thinking about art-making?
I am a fiber/mixed-media artist with a decades-long career as a writer. Working with textiles and handmade paper from around the world and exploring the heart of art evoke my joy daily.
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