Sunday, October 25, 2009

more ambling

this post is more of a response to responses to a previous post but i think it's worth exploring further. A.H. asked: ...what about questioning the truth? An artist may choose to present an opportunity to ask "what is the truth?"; allowing the viewer to explore an issue from a new perspective, taking the viewer on a journey to examine their own beliefs, values and assumptions.

and i agree. but when we say "questioning the truth", don't we really mean "questioning that thing that is masquerading as the truth"? aren't we really speaking about the artist unveiling or unmasking? aren't we referring to their task as a presenter of truth and revealer of lies? one of my favourite books, the prophetic imagination by walter breuggemann, refers to the truth-telling function of the voice of the church - which i think also extends to the voice of the artist (in whatever medium):

the task of prophetic ministry is to nurture, nourish and evoke a consciousness and perception alternative to the of the dominant culture around us. they are to criticize the status quo and energize us to action. simply, it is to identify those things that are not as they should be. (emphasis added)
in other words, art is about a hermeneutics of hope.

A.H. also asked: ...what about the viewer's role? Each viewer brings their own knowledge, experience and bias to the viewing process and this influences what they take away from the experience.

obviously, every viewer does indeed bring their own "baggage" to their viewing of a work, but my position is that one does not begin there. if that's your starting point, it's not really about the art, it's about you. and art is not first and foremost about the viewer. it does not, in fact, simply exist as a blank template upon which the viewer imprints their own desires and psychology and hopes and fears. i actually think that's a very modern approach to, and attitude about, looking at and thinking about art. art is about me. well it's not, actually. or at least not particularly. that kind of thinking brings us to the place where "art can mean [radically and completely] different things to different people". poppycock. i think that is only possible if art is all about the viewer's [personal] experience and not about the relationship between the viewer and the art. and i think that is the wrong way to approach art. let me explain.

it's like that c. s. lewis quote i referred to in the previous related post. we have to come to art with a willingness to engage in a conversation, and that means at least as much listening as talking. all of that is ultimately mediated and shifted by the viewer's open-ness to what the work is communicating, exploring, offering. in fact, the simple process of starting with describing the work, and making connections between those descriptions, and then [slowly] moving to interpretation (rather than jumping to our interpretation immediately - almost without even really looking at the art) will help bring a greater balance to that interaction.

i prefer to believe that the art (and artist) is trying to communicate something. it may be a criticism or it may be propaganda. or it might be asking us to consider something (but let's face it -- that usually does have an agenda). one would hope that the artist has exercised some responsibility as an artist and has thought through and considered the work they have created, how its materiality, presentation, context and imagery/ symbols conveys the message. that being said, if we exercise some measure of the same care in reading/ looking at the work (i.e. deciphering), we really can't simply interpret the work however we want to -- we have to engage with what is there. and while our experiences et al certainly can colour those interpretations, i think the core will be pretty consistent. in anything, our experience should enrich and add nuance to those interpretations.

then again, i'm an idealist. and very demanding of both the viewer/ reader and the art i look at. and my own ideal viewer/ reader.

happy international artists day!

(this also happens to be picasso's birthday)

Saturday, October 24, 2009

art, pastors and the church (o my!)

as a [practicing] artist and follower of christ, i am always interested in the relationship between what i consider my primary calling and the community i am part of.

here is a video by craig detweiler where he shares his thoughts about the role of the "arts pastor":

a wonderfully impassioned speech -- it makes me want to do an arts rant of my own! (and i just might)

there are several things that i like about this video -- chief among them, the role of the [arts] pastor to simply pastor/ shepherd ("release/ unleash") the artist in the local congregation. and
not only the artists, but everyone's inherent creativity. i also like the references to serving the local community/(-ies), not only by releasing the congregation's song in the community but also telling their story (stories?) in an artistic or creative way. this is part of what i consider a primary calling for the artist (christian or non): serving.

the second question - does the church set the artist free? - was more problematic for me. yes, the church was a patron of the arts in times past, but the church also was a patron of
excellence. i think that part of the church's role as a patron also necessarily involves an ability to distinguish and determine (perhaps even discern) what work or which artists are worthy of patronage and support. the question i have is: why exactly was the church the main patron before? what was the impetus behind its patronage? status? power? didacticism? evangelismo? i think we sometimes gloss over the intricacies and context of that particular history of the church and its role in culture. certainly, the church did play a major role - after all, what is often referred to as "the cultural mandate" is part of our calling as fully alive humans - but it is complicated. so why were "the arts" (and there is a history in various aspects of the church for all artforms: music, dance, literature, drama) a focus? and how does that play out now? and what does it mean that the church was a locus? what does that mean for us as part of a community (or communities)?

the last section and its repeated emphasis on beauty was also quite generative. dostoevsky said that "beauty will save the world". beauty as a theological concept is a driving force for much of the theology of art, and there is a moral component to the idea that is crucial to our activity as artists, let alone christians. further, in the last 10 years or so, the notion of beauty is increasingly invoked and explored in contemporary work (and often, oddly enough, in conjunction with notions of spirituality), and no longer ignored or ridiculed. there's something important about beauty. it has a moral rigour to it.
i especially like craig's question:how can we create moments of beauty, truth and splendour that cause us to pause? and, presumably, ponder. reflect. open ourselves up to the possibility and capacity of art to move us.

do wonder, however, about the emphasis that somehow the 21c is purely a "visual century" and of rushing headlong to embrace every form and expression of that visual culture. in his other do you see? video (this one is #2) craig speaks of slowing down. perhaps the inundation of images (depending on your source, we are bombarded with anywhere from 4,000 to 20,000 images a day) is more a matter of incessant demand rather than simply the visuality of our time. how do we/ can we/ will we create or facilitate that place of [visual] rest? i think it's more a matter of finding and presenting the right image(s) for the right purpose (the idea of "fittingness" being another way to look at beauty) than embracing our culture's proliferation of images (iconophilia) or abandoning them altogether (iconoclasm). i mean, images are powerful - they are not, nor have they ever been, neutral. which reminds me, i need to keep reading iconoclash.

anyway, certainly lots of grist for the mill...

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

international artist day (october 25)

yes. that's right. someone lobbied for october 25th (picasso's birthday) to be recognized as international artist day. and it's working.

which begs the question: do we need our own day? why? what purpose does it serve? are we that fragile? are we that deserving? what would justify artists "having their day"? it all seems to be a little "look at me - i deserve to be noticed" (oh, and buy some of my art, too!)...i mean it's a list of things to do to celebrate/ support artists:

  • visit a gallery and explain why you're there
  • purchase a piece of art to support an artist
  • visit an artist's studio
  • take an artist to lunch and explore their world
very nice. but how does that make us matter (if, indeed, the arts matter)?

i say, let's turn the tables. how will we, as artists, serve our public(s) -- i.e. contribute to society -- on that day?

let's go to the public and share our work, process, passion. let's move outwards. let's reach out. i think international artist day should be purposeful. it should be more than self-aggrandizing and self-celebratory. let's mess up how people perceive artists. let's help them understand us. let's rebuild the bridge between art and people. let's reconnect art and life. let's engage with community.

and then we can celebrate international artist day as something that is more than just about ourselves.