Important Work

There’s a short-sighted attitude that I, and probably most artists encounter all too often; this idea that we, and art in general, are whimsical fluff, and that the world is doing us a favor by letting art happen. And I’m here to tell you that this is bullshit.

In a world where clever-sounding catch phrases, rather than discussions of policy get politicians elected, it’s not surprising to see people falling for overly reductive thinking. We’ve developed a hardened economist attitude that if we cannot draw a straight line between an activity and the almighty dollar, then that activity is of little to no value. Everyone likes an opportunity to say that they “supports the arts”, but it sometimes feels like it is being said almost out of pity, with an unspoken understanding that art, and artists, are not really necessary.

What’s worse, is that even artists buy it sometimes. On more than one occasion recently, I’ve found myself having to convince artists of their own value.

So, for anyone out there who feels compelled to follow creative pursuits, but finds themselves holding back and thinking “what value is this?”, here’s your pep talk:

Art comes from our deep curiosity about ourselves and the universe around us, the same place that science comes from . While science tends to study the more tangible things, art can offer a way to study those things that are just as palpable, but harder to nail down. The more subjective things. Art takes on subjects from beauty to anger to boredom to humor, and even questions about our own curiosity. (“Just why IS ____ so damned interesting, anyway?)

There are other animals, such as birds or monkeys, that make and use tools. But I cannot think of a single one that builds models of the world order to study them, pass them around and have a conversation about them, and the parts of the world that they represent. That’s what scientists do, that’s what artists do, and that is a huge part of what makes us human. We make art.

You’ve probably heard the line that art “is a cultural imperative”. It’s true. All peoples, even the most poverty-stricken and downtrodden, have art. The nature of art might change with wealth, but it is not a privilege of wealth. Again, It’s part of being human.

So, there you are, considering making some art, doing something creative, when that poisonous thought, “yeah, but what’s the point? What’s this really WORTH?” pops into your head. Well, I’m here to tell you that making art is important work. It must happen, and it does happen because it is vital to being human. Furthermore, the art that you are about to make does not need to be a masterpiece to be valid.

Take a moment and look around you. Nearly everything you see was designed on some level. Before it happened, on some level, it had to be imagined. The shape of your coffee cup, the color of the walls, what you are wearing, and often even the landscape around you was imagined first, and then created by people. Even though your drawing, song, dance, poem or sculpture might not have another function, it is part of that bigger, ongoing practice of imagining and creating. It is part of a bigger conversation, and it is from that conversation that the man-made, and man-understood world arises from. Art helps us decide what is important. A huge part of our world exists because someone created it. The more contributions to the practice of imagining and creating, the better the world around us will be. Art, and creativity is not whimsical fluff, it is important work.

 

And since this is my art blog and all, here is some recent work. I promise not to make this the Summer of Selfies, and I do have some other paintings in the works, but for now here is more of the “What Else Can I Do With My Face?” project.

The one with the strawberry made me realized something; that I’ve become a performance artist for an audience of one, myself. My primary goal when painting that was to watch myself do a painting with a strawberry in my mouth. It was pretty difficult to do without chomping down on it.

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4 thoughts on “Important Work

  1. Your unchomped strawberry reminds me of a scene from “The Blacklist,” where the James Spader character is describing the negative effect on him of a master painting of an ugly woman at a piano – that he couldn’t get back to sleep for thinking of the terrible song she must be playing. I think I will always look at your strawberry painting and think about how hard it would be not to eat a delicious strawberry – particularly poignant for me, as I am allergic to them and yet love them, especially here in Oregon where the farmers’ market strawberries are like the Platonic ideal of fruit. So there you go, more evidence of what you have put out there in the world – a sudden, strong longing for a strawberry that one cannot eat, the power of that moment of wishing to chomp. It’s almost as powerful as the wolf that my daughter claimed was in your painting, which I now think of as “The Wolf in the Backyard” because now I know it’s there.

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