Thursday, December 26, 2019

Crafting a View of Art -- Part I

"Instead of pushing creative teams to think outside the box, consider what’s best for the user and what constraints they face, and create a new playground where they feel comfortable to explore." -- from a study showing that children act with far greater freedom on playgrounds where there are fences surrounding them, and conversely cluster around their teacher when there are no fences.

I guess it comes down to (but maybe isn't limited to?) "What is art?"

I grew up in a culture that evaluated a distinction between art and craft in which art was deemed something akin to "divine", while craft was merely mortal. Pedestrian. Sometimes even twee.

And so I grew up thinking I wanted to be an artist. Until I didn't.

Somewhere along the line I changed the way I approached the distinction and realized that all I wanted to do was create objects that pleased me and at the same time pleased my community as well.

That's craft.

Add an objective degree of quality to that distinction and if I could achieve that, I maybe could call myself a "craftsman".

If I could successfully do that -- please me and please others by my creative hand -- maybe I could perpetuate and amplify my ability to keep doing so by also making a living doing it.

The more I was able to make, the more likely came the pleasing results.

And, ironically, the more I pursued that excellence in craft, the more often my culture described the result of my efforts as "art".

Conversely, when I was studying with a mind to becoming an artist, I found myself in the midst of an academic and cultural milieu that conflated "freedom" with "creativity".

In that setting there had arisen a couple of decades worth of a new doctrine that had permeated the academic world that went something like this: "Teaching the mechanics of how to create -- the discipline of structured learning of techniques, materials, history -- will inhibit creativity, effectively hemming them into the status quo. And the status quo is, by definition, not "Art"."

But I wanted to know how to paint. I wanted to understand soloing over a chord progression. I wanted master clay. I wanted to know how others who had come before got the vocabulary in materials to create the works that at that point seemed transcendent, that spoke to my heart, that thrilled me.

The academic world was telling me that such instruction would inhibit my creativity....and without creativity there is no Art.

Small wonder I found refuge in craft. From that point I followed my intuition that a string cannot be pushed. It can only be pulled.

A bit of confirmation -- not that my budding acceptance of who I was and what I wanted to pursue was right -- but that it was right enough for my ability to understand the world....

...I became aware of my estranged nephew's painting.

I was vaguely aware that my brother's son, Stephen, had gone off to Italy to study painting. Up to that point I had never seen any of Stephen's artwork.

But the first time I saw one of Stephen's paintings I was quite physically startled. It was, to my eye, masterful. My mind went immediately to:

1. Artists are born and not made. Stephen had to be gifted, right? That's what our culture sorta believes, right? I mean, when someone demonstrates an undeniable skill at something, it must be because they have something born into them -- or some inspiration from a transcendent source -- in order to create something so inexplicably "other", right?

2. Therefore, art is the domain of artists. But everyone wants to be an artist because our culture has romanticized the appellation "Artist" to such a degree -- who wouldn't want to be thus honored? And so, it seems, the simplest way to allow everyone who wants to be an artist fulfill that dream is to re-define art....or at least, change the focus of the definition to that very (and ironically narrow) corridor of "creative" -- but creative without an end and creative without a standard.

My introduction to Stephen's painting was causing me a pause in my philosophical journey. It was causing me to look again at my perceptions of what was art, what was craft. Were there meaningful distinctions?

Was he gifted? Was art not available to just anyone?

....and then I started looking into it just a bit deeper. I went to the website of the Italian academy at which Stephen was studying.

It seems that there were hundreds (if not thousands over time) of painters equally gifted as Stephen. Hmmmm. I saw the illusion of Stephen's "giftedness" and THEN I got a glimpse behind the curtain. Stephen's fellow students were doing work much like Stephen's. His fellow students appeared to be equally "gifted". Hundreds of them. So, maybe Stephen LEARNED to paint?


And from there he was able to create. Once armed with a set of skills, Stephen was able to create in a manner that transcended the how-it-was-done. He was thus now capable of disappearing into the work and out of sight such that when one viewed his work, the "how did he DO that?" became secondary to the emotional response he made himself capable of evoking.

No comments:

Post a Comment