27 October 2013

Let's talk about art...

So, what is art exactly?  Obviously, there are some things we can all look at and agree, "wow, that is ART!"  But, really, how do we define "art"?  Is art the same for everyone, or is art more of a subjective concept?  If you study art you'll be told that there are seven elements of art... texture, space, shape, color, tone/value, line, and form.  But, are those elements all there is to art? 

Many years ago I owned a needlepoint shop in a little district near downtown.  There was an "art gallery" there, and I recall hearing the owner say, "I don't create art, but I know what GOOD art is."   We had differing opinions about that.  She did carry lovely art, very well executed by those who created it... for the masses.  By that I mean it was art that the "normal" folks out there would buy and put in their living rooms, and they would be very pleased that they had original works of art.  Nothing wrong with that, she knew her clients, and carried what they wanted.

But that is a pretty narrow definition of art.

What about the more controversial works of art?  Do a quick Google search for "controversial art", and you can find all sorts of things.  A quick look at what you find in that search will often shock you, disgust you, or simply leave you with your mouth agape.  Why?  Because most of these works of art deal with things we are uncomfortable with.  Sex, religion, world issues, the homeless, injustices...  You know, the things we all know exist, but would rather just keep in a dark closet and pretend don't.  This sort of art pushes our boundaries.  Just like a banned book, this sort of art can, IF we allow it, make us look at what we really think, and actually try to understand why we think that way.  We don't often do that though, we'd far rather decry it than delve deeper. 

And, of course, there is art out there that just plain confuses us. Is a red line painted across a white canvas art?  Does it have a deeper meaning to investigate?  Is the red line created from something exotic and interesting and that is what makes it art?  Did the artist just want to see if they could dupe the general public?

Or, is it all really just that subjective?

Have you ever had the chance to see an original Van Gogh up close?  A couple of years ago a dear friend and I spent the day at the Cincinnati Art Museum.  (BTW, the Cincinnati Art Museum, founded in 1881, was the first building built specifically to be an art museum west of the Alleghenies.  Entry into the museum is free, thanks to a generous donation, parking is $4.00 per vehicle.)  It really is a lovely museum, and whilst wandering through the galleries I came upon a Van Gogh.  Undergrowth with Two Figures...

The photographic representation of it is lovely, but it does not do the painting justice.  The painting is executed in oil in canvas, and when you are standing in front of it you can see each and every brush stroke.  The paint is thick, layers upon layers, the strokes are short and choppy, and run in every direction...  You can see where the bristles of his brush cut through the paint as it was being deposited on the canvas. The textures, the colors... I cannot tell you how much I wanted to run my fingers across the ridges of that dried paint... the ridges that just begged to be caressed.  I wanted to touch his brush strokes, as though some part of his genius might be transferred to me.

Of course, Van Gogh, who has had such a huge influence on 20th century art, whose work entangled my very soul that day, suffered from horrible anxiety and mental illness.  He died at 37, from a gun shot wound, thought to possibly be self inflicted even though the gun was never found.  His work was practically unknown, and certainly not appreciated as it is now.

But that feeling, standing in front of the piece, the longing to touch it, the feeling is almost indescribable... to me, that is what art does.  It's so much more than lines and colors and values... it causes you to feel something.  To me, art is very subjective.  That red line across a white canvas may well speak to you of something deeper, while all I see is a red line on a white canvas.  We all see things differently, we all define things differently.  We see art (and everything else) not just with our eyes, but we see it with our hearts and our belief systems as well.

Early one summer morning, back in that needlepoint shop, a young man walked by.  He stopped, peered into the huge front window filled with colorful canvases.  He was wearing a yellow t-shirt.  I recall that detail because I could see that the length of both of his arms extending from his sleeves were tattooed.  Brilliant colors interwoven with amazing imagery.  When I grew up, only "those" sort of people got tattoos.  You know, the ones who lived on the fringe of society, the sort who might be trouble.  As I was watching him through the window, he turned to come into the door.  I admit, there was a moment of "why would he come in here", and I even further admit, it was because of MY concept of tattoos that had been ingrained when I was younger, of what "those" people were like.

He was curious about what he saw in the window.  I was curious about his tattoos.  We had a conversation that morning, he learning more about needlepoint, me learning more about why he had chosen to cover himself with tattoos.  Turns out he was a very impressive young man.  He was working on a PhD (at 24 no less), he had fallen in love with tattoos the first time he saw one when he was very young, and he was terribly selective about what he chose to put on his body, each and every one of them represented something meaningful to him.  So here he was, this kid, who was one of the most polite young men I had met in years, well educated, well read, had a serious plan for his future, blowing all of my preconceived notions about what tattoos meant.  I just love it when that happens... when some stupid stereotype I have, that I didn't even realize I had, is simply crushed.  Once you can see a different perspective, the world is an entirely new place.

(Ode to Kate, a mixed media art doll inspired by Kate's tattoos)
I've never looked at tattoos the same again.  What I had learned from that encounter is that they are an amazing art form... a permanent art that is forever associated with the body that it is on.  It's a good thing I had the opportunity to learn that lesson, because a few years later my own beautiful daughter got her first tattoo.  Now, don't get me wrong... I still don't understand why anyone would randomly mark their body in a permanent way with something like a zombie Raggedy Ann, but, who am I to judge what someone else things is art, or is worth marking their body with?  My daughter asked me to design a tattoo for her.  One of my "doodles" with poppies in it.  And she wants me to get one that is very similar, to be forever linked in that way.  To be asked to do that is one of the most amazing honors of my life... my little one wants a piece of my art on her body, she wants us to share that experience.  Forever.  I mean, seriously, how incredible is that?

I'm darned good with color.  Not to terrible at some forms of painting.  I've got the whole mixed media thing going in a way that I like.  I have even learned that I can sorta do that folk art that I love so much.  But, I think that I suck at drawing.  I made that comment somewhere along the way and my friend Cherie contradicted me on it.  She called attention to my doodling.  I had never once considered my doodles drawings.  Not once.  Not remotely.  It's a great experience when one comment can make you consider things from a completely different perspective.  Maybe I do draw, at least a bit... hmmm... 

The real question behind all of this rambling is... does how we define art impact whether or not we call ourself an artist?  I think it may well play a role.  As I said in my first post, until I realized that art is not just what the likes of Rembrant and DiVinci did, I could never have seen what I do as art.  If you can't see what you do as art, you cannot define yourself as an artist. Once my definition of what art is expands, am I more likely to consider what I do art?

So, what do you think?  Does the way you define art, impact whether or not you see yourself as an artist?  Are you truly aware of how you define what art, or what an artist is?  What is art to you?  What makes someone an artist?  Why do you have those specific definitions?

Remember, this is an interactive dialogue... so let's chat about this.  You can leave comments here... OR... I am just getting so darned tech savvy... {she laughs hysterically} I started a Facebook group for us!!!  You can find that here.

21 October 2013

YOU are an artist...

Yup, YOU.  YOU are an artist.  How do I know that?  Because there is "something" in almost every human being that just makes us want to create.  Some of us foster that desire more, some of us ignore it a bit... but trust me, it's there.  It's been that way since we humans began becoming self aware.  Don't believe me?  Check out the world's oldest cave paintings in El Castillo cave.  Some of the paintings were as simple as a red disk, but they were made by man about 40,800 years ago.

Why do we create?  There are about as many different reasons for that as there are people who create things.  There was a time where the art invoked magic, it drew down the blessings of the gods, gave thanks, and represented the things that were important to those creating it...for some of us, it still does that.  As strange as it can seem to those of us who have phones we can hold in our hands that have cameras in them to record everything, once upon a time, that wasn't so. The artist was the camera of her day. The artists were what captured their world.  Humans want to make our surroundings beautiful.  We embellish our clothing, we create jewelry to embellish ourselves, we hang art on our walls... it makes us happy, it's what we do.

Now, while I am NOT an expert, certainly not according to Martha anyway , and boo-hiss to Martha for tearing down rather than building up those who blog... I am a 50-something-year-old woman who has wanted to be an artist all of her life... and I've come to realize that my time is marching on... fast.  If I am ever going to be an artist I have to simply decide that I am going to wear the hat of "Artist", and that's exactly what I've done.   I can, and I shall, wear that glittery and fabulous hat of "ARtIsT", because I am an artist.  BTW, my hat is fuchsia and lime green with great big bits of orange and deep, deep teal, with feathers, and colorful threads that hang from it, and lots of beads all over it.  Of course, it is constantly evolving, so next week it might be something different.

I will insert a disclaimer here...I have absolutely no formal training in art, unless you count the high school classes that I took.  But I do have a fabulously fun, and somewhat strange mind, so I can be whatever I choose to be... just as long as I can back the claim up!!!  Of course, if I have no formal training in art, and I am an artist, you know what that means, don't ya?  Means you can be one too!!

So, if I believe you are an artist... why don't you?

Since I don't know you personally, and haven't gone through years of therapy with you, I can't speak directly to your reasons... but I am willing to bet that, every person out there who wants to be an artist, but just cannot give themselves permission to wear that hat, can give you a dozen or so... right off the top of their head.  (Especially easy, since there is no hat on that head.)  And, I'd almost bet they are a bit more like excuses than valid reasons.  I mean y'all... "I can't draw a straight line" just doesn't cut it... who wants to draw something as boring as a straight line???

While I don't know your "why I'm not an artist" reasons, I can share with you mine...

In all my years, people have told me how "creative" I am, how "artistic" I am, how "talented" I am.  Ok, maybe not ALL of my years, I did spend all those formative ones learning how to walk, and feed myself and dress myself, but you get the idea.  And, looking back, I was pretty creative... and, honestly, relatively talented.  But I didn't believe any of them, not a one.

Why didn't I?  Because I believed that, to be an artist, one had to be an artist the likes of Van Gogh, or Monet, or DaVinci.  Creating a beautiful portrait that looked exactly liked the person, or a perfect still life, or some amazing landscape... I could try, but I sucked at it.  Seriously.  Sucked.

And, I don't know about you, but I have this inner critic that would shame the most scathing food critic at the New York Times. That voice inside your head that has the uninvited running dialogue about how what you are doing sucks?  Mine goes something like this... "OMG, you think THAT looks like a duck?  Seriously?  Oh come on... it can't be a duck, an elephant... maybe even a moose if you look at those lines you stuck out there for no reason just right... but a duck?  Oh no, that isn't a duck..."  The conversation can go on forever. Interestingly enough, my inner critic's voice is suspiciously like my mother's voice. 

And, just as bad, or worse even, than all my other reasons, or excuses really, is that I happily embraced wearing a hat for far too long that read "I am not good enough".  And, oh my goodness, that belief didn't just apply itself to art, that extended across my life.  I was a terrible daughter, a horrible wife, a therapy inducing mother to my children, a volunteer that just didn't do enough...  The list just went on and on.  The "I'm not good enough" and the "you can't do anything right" voices often got together and had quite the party in my head... and it was ugly.  Very ugly.  At least for me, but they seemed to thoroughly enjoy it.

Little by little, honestly, I think it has been mostly a process of getting older for me, I have (FINALLY) come into my own.  And, to be bluntly honest with you, I really don't give a damn what people think of me any more.  I am doing the absolute best I can, I am passionate about every aspect of my life, and everything that I do in this life is done with intent and commitment... and that is enough.  That is the best I can do... it ain't perfect, but it's pretty darned good.  It was such an amazing revelation when I finally understood I was never going to be someone else's definition of perfect. (Read that carefully, and let it sink in for a minute or two, because I think so many of us are trying to meet what we believe is someone else's definition of perfection, real or imagined.)

MY expectations of myself were unrealistic, because they came from what I believed others expected of me.  It was quite the shock to find out that those others didn't really have those expectations... I was creating them all by myself.  I was being far too hard on myself.  I had been the one expecting perfection... an absolutely unattainable illusion.  There is no such thing as perfection.  What there is, and what is attainable, is being who you truly are, embracing your "imperfections", and letting go of all that other bullshit. And, trust me, three quarters or more of it is all bullshit.

With that realization came the question... "Now what?".  I mean... seriously... if I didn't have to be perfect, what could I be? What do I want to be?  Do I have to limit myself?  OMG, if I have no limits... what can I do???  Just let me tell you what I can do...

I can be imperfect, and I can love, love, LOVE my imperfections. They are, after all, what make me... me.  They are what make me different than you.  I can play, and explore, I can make messes.  I can look at the world differently, I can see beauty in every tiny little thing.  I can be mesmerized by the moon, and I can take an afternoon off and spend the whole of it doing nothing but looking at the clouds if I want.

And, here's the best part... I've always wanted to be an artist... so guess what?  I can be an artist.  Oh, I am not a Michaelangelo or a Rembrandt... nor am I an expert in all of this... but I don't want to be.  I can define art differently, I can create bright, garish, wonderfully fun creations that are my own art, not the art of someone else.  I am me... and I am an artist.

I have two goals for this blog.  1. That if you want to be an artist, but still haven't found the perfect artist hat to wear... you will find the encouragement, the belief, and the faith in yourself as you read through my experiences, and the experiences of others who share them here to realize that YOU are an artist, and can wear that hat proudly.  2.  That this blog will honor all of those wonderful people who have supported my journey, who have walked parts of the path with me, and who encourage me to continue to walk this path, even when the undergrowth is a bit thick, because the journey really is all that matters.

So, join me... come share this path for a bit... I think we're going to have lots of fun!