A discussion of the value of art and ways to support various art forms.
MCKNOTES ON ART
Art and craft shows seem to pop up just about everywhere in the fall. Maybe it’s because the weather is somewhat predictable and can be close to perfect. I tend to think that it may reflect artists’ tendency to keep with the academic calendar. They work from fall through the winter, spring and summer, and then it’s time to show their year of work and hopefully clear out some of their accumulated work by selling a good portion of it.
Kirksville has its own “Red Barn Arts and Crafts Show,” but there are many others scattered throughout the state. I was lucky enough to be in St. Louis for the art show at the botanical garden, which we used to call “Shaw’s Garden.” It’s a great setting in which to browse displays of beautiful art. Not only the beautiful colors of fall flora add to the experience, but the show extends down one of the adjacent streets. Fabulous old homes flank the street where art is set up in the middle of the avenues. With luck the weather is cool enough for a pleasant stroll, but with plenty of sunshine to shed incomparable light from the autumn sun.
The important thing for me is that there are so many concepts of visual art on display. One gentleman took pictures of his family and pasted them to a canvas. He then incorporated those images into a painting, which allowed him to relate more about the relatives he chose. One showed a smiling young boy surrounded by fishing equipment and various other pieces of paraphernalia that reflected the subject’s interests. My description lacks the clarity of his works of art. I didn’t know whether to call them paintings, photographs, mixed media or collages. All of these labels seemed appropriate. The great thing about seeing art in this kind of setting is that the artist is sitting right there, more than willing to talk about his or her creations. Whatever I could not discern by simply looking at the art could be clarified on the spot by the very artist who created it.
Like music, books, plays and other artistic expressions, not everything appeals to me. I do find most of it interesting, and sometimes I’m thrilled by the fact that I’m looking at something unlike anything I have ever seen before. Watercolors are intriguing to me because I don’t think I could ever come up with a watercolor that looked like anything other than a kitchen accident. Some watercolors are unbelievably intricate and impressive. Others may be less detailed and completely different stylistically, but nevertheless, interesting for what the artist is representing.
I like sculpture, too. One of the artists displayed a series of windmills, obviously so carefully put together so that they could respond to the slightest breeze with various parts moving in contrasting directions. One who does oil paintings deals with color, light and form. This artist had to be really in touch with air currents and the effects of wind, but other aspects of nature as well. I really wanted to buy one of his sculptures and have it mounted on the lawn outside my window.
There were some sculptures I didn’t care for at all. Some of them appeared to be gargoyles with evil looks. It’s not that I think all art has to be beautiful, but I certainly wouldn’t want to look out my window at a face that looks like an advertisement for exorcism.
I saw some ceramics that amazed me. I learned that tall vases could be thrown on the wheel in sections and then attached to each other with a blow torch, much like welding. The artist had to build his own kiln so that his large creations could be fired properly.
During the week, I also spent time in the western part of the state. Kansas City is the home of the Nelson-Atkins gallery. Plans to visit the Truman library were spoiled by the government shutdown, so some unexpected free time made this an obvious choice. The art on display at such a prestigious gallery is certainly a feather in the cap of any artist whose work is displayed there. Still, some of it I like very much, and other pieces I don’t really care for at all. It may be that I simply do not understand the pieces that fail to appeal to me.
I believe that all of us have some artistic expression in us. For some that may be an ability and understanding of mathematics. While I can respect that some people have this vein of art, I would be hard pressed to recognize it, and most certainly would not understand it. We usually think of art as a talent in visual arts, dancing, music, theatre or some form of art that has to do with public performance. Many athletes are artists, but not all of them. That’s true of musicians as well, though. Many musicians are true artists, while others are simply practitioners. Recently I met a doctor who is an artist. In this area where osteopathy found its origins, I would guess that many doctors have been artists, specifically those who practice manipulation. The doctor I met truly had healing hands and it is clear to me that he is an artist; a healing artist.
My mother was an artist in her way. She was an outstanding seamstress. She crocheted, did needle point as well as a number of other activities that have to do with fabrics. She also painted photographs. This is probably a lost art, but in the days before color photographs were the norm, my mother would paint sepia tone photographs with small tubes of oil paints using Q-tips to apply the color. I have added a copy of her work to this segment of my blog. This is a copy of a photo that is well over sixty years old, so it has yellowed to some degree. It’s important to note that my mother’s talent was, in part, restraining from using too much color. It’s the subtle tones of the photo that show that she clearly knew what she was doing. I used to watch her for hours as she carefully blended colors to get just the right hue, and then carefully applied the subtle coloring that resulted in tasteful color photos.
My father played the harmonica. He knew how to make it sound like a train, and could play almost any tune he heard. He couldn’t read music, and participated in very little beyond entertaining his family with his artful handling of the simple instrument.
I reiterate that I believe everyone has a talent. Many people dismiss their own abilities as insignificant. That’s unfortunate. It’s important to celebrate art. Part of that celebration is learning to recognize what is art. It’s everywhere. Architects are often artists. The list goes on and on. We are fortunate to live in a time that it’s much easier to share one’s art.
It is said that art imitates life. I think that art is such a wonderful way to try to make sense of our world when it otherwise seems so senseless. We all support art in one way or another. When we go to a movie, read a book or hang a picture on the wall, it is a statement of the significance of art in our own world. I’ve written before about the importance of keeping art in our schools. This is more of the same. Support the arts in any way you feel you can. It will be worth it.
Attending art fairs, galleries, performances and the like is a great way to support the arts. It may even be that you have a flair in art that you could enter in exhibits similar to the ones I have recently enjoyed.