It was around this time of year, and I was walking on a gentle mountain trail with my absolute favorite person. Yes, I’ll admit I have favorites. Happily, it’s a long list, and if you’re here reading this, you’re on it.
It’s wonderful how walking activates the mind as if the legs were cog cranks specifically designed to directly engage those tired cranial gears. Being fall, I was less intent on noticing the birds, and started talking about ideas that were surfacing, wondering what would take shape. “So, what’s it going to be?” seemed to be the question confronting me. The “what” referring to creative output. Out of my ramblings on the mountain came a perception of what I want the core of my work to be at its very best — what I want it to do for me, and ideally, for you.
The challenge, it seemed, was, and is, to create something positive, regardless of the specifics of what it might actually look like or by what means it might ultimately be made. If it could impart some joy, perfect, or a sense of possibility and wonder, even better. I’d settle for a twinge of some ineffable connection.
My inner cynic is always ready to make an uninvited appearance, but I don’t find the snark’s offerings compelling or absorbing. Don’t bring me down. Do I want or need to see more interpretations and fantasies of violence, abuse, and humiliation visited by humans upon everyone and everything? Is it shocking? No. Titillating? Eh. Obvious? Yes. On the other hand, the optimist and idealist risk seeming naive, their contributions cloying, sentimental, new agey, utopian, obscure, self-important, simplistic, and again, obvious. Personally, I decided to see what I could do while keeping my drawings non-objective, staying away from being literally descriptive, keeping my personal baggage in storage. By eschewing the obvious, maybe I’d find a way to get a little closer to the ideal of making something instrinsically positive.
It’s tricky. Positivity and optimism are not the same thing, nor are positivity and skepticism mutually exclusive. There are so many varied paths, and as I’ve kept this challenge in the forefront of my mind, I’ve taken more notice when I’ve seen it faced successfully in the work of others.
I was recently (half) joking about the arts and artists deserving a stimulus package and government bailout, when I found myself involved in one of those 140-character-or-less virtual conversations with a complete stranger who questioned whether art deserved any public money at all. “Should the working class fund entertainment for the middle class through taxes?” he justifiably wondered. I succinctly replied, “Tax $ 4 art: Funding entertainment? Maybe not. But art that inspires innovation, creative thinking, learning, problem solving?” His next response was to call me to task to provide examples, and guess what? Well, I have a few things I want to share with you. They may or may not have received funding, though in my opinion they deserve it, but I can promise, they won’t bring you down.
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Let’s not forget Liza Lou, beginning with her glittering masterpiece, “The Kitchen” (detail below).
And so much more.
With that in mind, I’m off to the studio.