FEATURE STORY: LIVING WITH ART
“While a hundred civilizations have prospered without computers or windmills or even the wheel, none have survived even a few generations without art.” —David Bayles & Ted Orland
“Art denigrated…war governed the nations.” —William Blake
“Live in the question.” —Werner Erhardt
WE LIVE IN A AGE OF UNCERTAINITY. World strife, not withstanding, the structures that supported artists in the past are no longer fully in place—the church, the tribe, craft guilds and apprenticeships, wealthy patrons are diminished. Yet artists have survived through the vestiges of these broken or inadequate relationships. Why do we do it? or as David Bayles and Ted Orland ask, “How does art get done? Why often does it not get done? And what is the nature of the difficulties that stop so many who start?”
I have been reading and rereading a practical and profound little book called “Art and Fear: On the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking.” The authors, Orland and Bayles say that “Art is ordinary work,” done by ordinary people like you and me. “Virtually all artists spend some of their time (and some artists spend all of their time) producing work that no one else much cares about.” That’s brutal, but isn’t it true? And they say that a viewer, after all, is only interested in finished product, if that. But the artist, if fully engaged, most often is most interested in the process. A viewer doesn’t really care how you got your work to come—Anne Truitt says in her diary, “Daybook,” that we weave our art, like the web of a spider out of our own bodies. It is that personal. And art, to these boys is not about convincing ourselves that our work doesn’t sell because no one “gets it.” No one is obligated to support our work or even like it.
All romantic notions of being misunderstood aside, art is what we do to find our true work. Art is what we do to find true selves. To the artist, art is a verb. To create an honest dialogue with our own work is what we are after. The work leads us. The work speaks, we listen. IT tells us what color to use. IT reveals the next artwork and IT tells us when a piece is completed so we can start that next work. Rodin spent hours in the quarry listening to the rocks tell him what they wanted to be. “Choose me!” says the rock! We, obedient servants, even Rodin, hear, choose and make some good art, some mediocre. And we do it all, the good, the bad, the ugly—because each piece matters—each stroke of the pen or the brush leads to another. Each seeming failure brings us forward if we allow it. Creating a relationship with our art and the forces that move us is what it is about. “What do artists have in common with each other?” David and Ted contend that visual artists know this about each other: that they will retreat to their studios—be it a bedroom, an attic, or a desk in the family room—to nurture this relationship with…the issues, materials, tools and colors or textures…or words. Why? Because it matters to them.
So what matters to you? If few people care about what you are doing, what your heart tells you to do, what the materials tell you to do, will you do it anyway?
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