Thursday, March 30, 2006

Defining Art

What is art? Who would think such a small sentence was so loaded? Gombrich’s “Story of Art” talks about how the idea of “art” didn’t come around till after the Egyptian paintings. I always thought that was art, but he made me see how it is beautiful but it is also a part of a very intricate ritual with very rigid rules. It seems in the “serious” art world painting is art. At least that is what it would seem when you see what the art history books emphasize and what everyone assumes when I tell them I’m an artist. I always hear, “Oh, what do you paint?” (I do paint too, but that’s not the point.) And if you look at sales, though other art is selling, nothing sells like a painting because the general public has been told that is art. Photography was not seen as art at first either and now it is accepted by mostly everyone as art. Digital photography and manipulation seems to be the new art. This is a very exciting medium that can go in so many directions.

But this is all historical. What this question really means is, “What is art to you?” Of course, there are a lot of galleries and museums out there that are making up their own rules. You have to make up yours. I recently examined this question for myself and found I had two views (maybe there’s more in there, but I’m not going to get into multiple personality traits).

One view is from my perspective as an art teacher. That is that whatever each individual creates is art and we should all explore that side of our personalities. My neighbor who is taking pictures of her garden and blowing it up as a digital canvas is doing art. She is expressing herself in a creative way. I think this is a necessary part of the human psyche that needs so to be explored and cultivated.

My second view is as an artist. Basically, it comes down to one thing. Does it move me? Now, I can break it all down and say why one piece works and one doesn’t according to design and composition rules. I can find the logic and an understanding in any piece of art. But that doesn’t tell you what I’m really thinking. What is important to me is that it makes me feel or think, that it either answers an unsaid question or creates new ones for me to ponder. Craft, art, computerized or hand made are not the ultimate issues for me. I recently said I wanted to see the artist’s hand involved, but now I see these are the wrong words. I want to see their heart and soul. And I want that to somehow touch me, come from their realm into mine.

Can I do this with my own art? Well, I’m trying and will keep trying because I am an artist, a creator, and somehow want to give something to others of what my vision is. I want to touch someone, and I am going to give my whole heart to do it.

And that, folks, is what I think art, at least the man-made kind, is. Now, give me a misty morning with the light coming through the trees kissing the newly fallen leaves of autumn and my breath will stop. That is art too, but the artist’s hand is left to each of us for interpretation.


Dianna in Maui said...

Kim, very well said. There has been a lot of discussion recently on quilters blogs and the QA List, attempting to define art and artists. It has been at the top of my mind because of our current Art Maui exhibition, which I found much of the art to be profoundly disturbing and nothing I would want to view more than once! Although art doesn't always have to be pretty to look at, I feel like it should be something I could look at again and again.

Kim Power said...

Hi Dianna: Interesting. What was disturbing to you? I understand what you say about being able to look at it again and again. At the same time, I am intrigued by some art that disturbs me because it nonetheless creates a feeling in me and so it must be strong. I had this feeling in a show on Chinese sculputure here. I wish I could remember the name of the artist, but there was a guy showing how man is so violent to man. Very disturbing, but very strong. Would I put it in my yard to look at everyday, maybe not, but I will never forget it, even if I've forgotten the artist's name.

Lois Jarvis said...

Dear Kim,
You have truly reached the best definition of art ever heard. I once made a piece of art that fits your definition. You can see my quilt, Ground Zero at:

Felicity said...

Just wanted to say you blog is so interesting. I saw your comment about meaningful art on Rayna's blog and when you mentioned 'a meaningful life' a penny dropped so to speak! I love reading all the discussions on the 'but is it art?' subject but that summed it up - there really is no answer, something I have long suspected! Hope you will be able to post some of your work soon!

Debra said...

Looks like you are finally finding an audience! I read a number of your past posts (catching up) and was so sad that nobody responded to great writing.

I love your discussions and your honesty.

I've spent a lot of time recently thinking about "artist's hand".. and I do think I mean the heart and the intention of the artist.. not merely the quality of their "mark making".

thanks for this.

kim said...

Hi Lois, Felicity, and Debra: So sorry I missed your comments till now! What a wonderful inspiration to get back to writing. Lois, I'm going to go check out your quilt now. Hope it is still around a year later... Keep posted for more pics, comments and news from the Lower Countries.