Saturday, May 9, 2009

She's Got Everything She Needs, She's an Artist, She Don't Look Back

I had this pretty long period of time in my life where I literally listened to nothing but Bob Dylan. Its a strange thing I admit, and luckily I moved well past that, but he has a pretty long list of music to listen to, and many different styles. During that period, I remember my sister buying me this album with the song, "She Belongs to Me", and she saying wistfully, yeah Dylan was singing about me.

At any rate, today, I was feeling pretty energyless after driving all three of my kids from store to store looking for how I can manage mother's day. I hate, hate, hate shopping, and after about the fifth store, my energy was sapped. I came home without any desire to do anything despite the fact that there was way too much to do.

But then I read this blog from my friend Bill about art. And of course I commented because Bill just happened to hit upon one of my many hot topics, a topic I've actually spent some time on... A topic I love talking and thinking about, and it was like I got this injection of something: my spirits were up, my energy came back, I was able to get on with my day. Thanks Bill.

And of course, I have to blog about this. Bill took a pretty popular opinion, an opinion I understand by the way, about abstract art, you know, the kind of art that's easy to exclaim, "my 10 year old could have painted that".

And click on his blog and look at the art in question. Its just a square white painting, with a pattern of geometric black lines painted on them. The artist was Piet Mondrian, read his wikipedia entry. I am no where near an art expert, but being able to appreciate art takes some skill and effort. You can either just be happy to put mass-produced prints of pretty flowers on your wall, or you can really explore art. You can be happy with mass produced food or you can learn to appreciate food cooked by a master chef. You can happily listen to the latest pop music, or you can really explore something more complex and sophisticated.

But are abstracts complex?

I'm not sure, but I had this experience with my wife that was interesting. We would attend these classical music concerts at ASU either performed by students, professors, or guest musicians. It was a nice, child-free time of our lives together that seems like this very short, distant memory...

But this one musician performed music composed by John Cage. Watch this performance of 4'33":

It explores silence as music. In the concert we went too, it wasn't this extreme, the pianist would play these very spare cords here and there. I found it interesting and strange all at the same time.

And that really what art is about, I think, its an exploration, a way to push boundaries, maybe. In many paintings, its not just the picture thats important, but the actual strokes from the brush, the colors of the paint. I went to a Monet exhibit a while back at the Phoenix Art Museum and I remember being fascinated by the broad brush strokes, being able to see the strokes that Monet himself placed on that canvas completely independent from the picture itself. I would look at the painting right up close not being able to recognize the picture at all, and instead see only paint and color. I would walk further away, and an equally beautiful picture would appear.

I've talked to my sister about the kind of art that any 10 year old kid can do. I've seen a lot of it. A painting that is nothing but a single color, or Jackson Pollack's drip painting. My sister had an interesting insight. Maybe I could have done it, she would say, but I didn't and that's the point. This sort of art presents art at its most primitive. That beautiful things don't have to be complicated or even necessarily impressive. They can be subtle or simple, but there's a certain sort of skill that presents even the mundane as something beautiful.

That color, in and of itself, is beautiful. Purples, greens, blues, and how they are mixed and blended together in certain ways. How these colors are presented to us.

To be honest, I really don't have much more to say. I wish I did. I wish I knew more.

I'll finish with three experiences I've had with art that really stands out for me, that I still remember with fondness, that changed me if only just a bit. They were all installation pieces that were more about ideas than about pretty pictures - I guess that's why I loved them so much.

1) An exhibit in the Phoenix Art Museum, the artist asked 20? 30? friends and acquaintances to identify a possession that was meaningful to them in some way, but were willing to give away. They would send this thing to the artist with an explanation of why it meant something to them. The artist put the item in a bag, hung them grid-like on a wall, with the story written underneath. There was something artful in the presentation, something beautiful about the grid, but also something moving about the stories as well.

2) Another installation in the Phoenix Art Museum where the artist took fragments of wood from a house that was destroyed in some way and hung them from string? down from the ceiling at random length, like a blur of (I believe) white wood fragments. I wish I could show you a picture, but it was beautiful.

3) The third was in New York City, at the Whitney Museum of Art, an artist presented two booths where visitors were invited to kneel at a small table and write a letter to someone, either asking for forgiveness or expressing gratitude. They could then put the letter in the envelope sticking it into slots in the wall of the booth. Each night, if the letter was addressed to someone, the artist would mail them, otherwise, the letter would be burned. As viewers approached the booth, they would see people writing letters, they would see letters already written, they would see the booths, all of this was art to be examined. I took my turn at booth. For a short while, I was part of an art exhibit at the Whitney.

Its been a while since I've been able to view art, but I love doing so. Usually I don't understand or always appreciate it. But I'm willing to approach art with an open mind and with a desire to be inspired in some way. Sometimes I am.

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