Sunday, May 16, 2010

What is Art?

Art needs to move me….in some way….emotionally for me to consider the art to have any merit. That is the basic requirement. For me to appreciate something as art I believe it must also have some aesthetic value. I guess that with my definition, a wide range of mediums qualify as art. Visual, audio, performing and written art are some forms that jump to mind. Just as a picture can paint a thousand words, so too can a good turn of phrase move me emotionally and have aesthetic value. As can a sunrise, or my son’s smile. Perhaps anything in God’s creation could be considered art. But this is just my personal opinion. Other people, for whom I have much respect, certainly have alternate opinions.

I recall a story about my sister, Jacque, an award-winning and gifted writer. She and her children had come down from New York, New York to visit our parents. They and other family members had met at a country kitchen style restaurant in Medicine Lodge, Kansas. Jacque was waxing artistically eloquent to her children while expounding upon the artistic merits and social statement of a “work of art” displayed on the wall of the country kitchen. After summing up her explanation to her children, our brother, Bruce laconically said; “Jacque, that’s a harness for a horse!”

Bruce is an internationally famous wildlife sculptor. He is noted particularly for the realism of his art and specializes in carousel sculptures. He has been a guest speaker for a national convention of art teachers. At the convention he said that if one wants to truly appreciate art, one merely needs to ask a child, who has not yet been spoiled by education and cynicism, to share their unbridled joy in a work of art.

Bruce is my identical twin brother, and yet we have slightly differing opinions about art. Where he strives for realism in his art, I am more interested in the impression. So I will play a bit loose with the form of a salmon to convey its strength and determination as it swims upstream to spawn. Typically, I attempt to point the viewer in the right direction about what I am attempting to convey with titles, such as “Corporate States of America”, or “Whimsy”, or “Ain’t Life a Drag”.

My daughter, Brianna, has an opinion about what constitutes art. I still have, in a place of honor on my mantle and in my heart, something she wrote when she was in 3rd grade. “The (My) Definition of Art. I believe Art is all about your imagination, and creativity, to create something really special. Whether it’s beautiful, eery (sic), exciting, dreary, sad, etc…it will always be a work of Art; as everything is.”

This calls to mind something a creative writing teacher demonstrated to a class I attended. With a piece of chalk she put a small dot on the chalkboard. She then asked the class what she had just put on the chalkboard. Without exception, we intelligent and well educated adults responded that she had put a dot on the chalkboard. Duh!!! She told us that if we had been a class of 3rd grade children there would have been as many answers as there were children in the class….such as a description of what lay on the other side of this wormhole to another dimension.

Somerset Maugham writes in “The Moon and Sixpence” “I cannot agree with the painters who claim superciliously that the layman can understand nothing of painting, and that he can best show his appreciation of their works by silence and a cheque-book. It is a grotesque misapprehension which sees in art no more than a craft comprehensible perfectly only to the craftsman: art is a manifestation of emotion, and emotion speaks a language that all may understand.” I like this summation. It speaks to the emotion of art and the conceit of artists. As an artist who would very much like to make a living at it, but so far has only racked up debt, I can certainly attest to the emotion that the best way to complement an artist is to purchase his or her work! I’ll bet that Bruce and Jacque will agree with this.
Charlie Chaplain agreed with Maugham. He said “I have not much patience with a thing of beauty that must be explained to be understood. If it does need added interpretation by someone other than the creator, then I question whether it has fulfilled its purpose

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