The artists among us

My acquaintance with Art goes back to when I was a kid. I don’t call myself by his name – like I said we’re acquainted, not necessarily related. There’s also respect on my part; he’s been around a lot longer than me. I think a lot of Art; I hold him in high regard and he definitely influences things I do.

A lot of folks go around calling themselves by Art’s name. It’s similar in a way to what other people do with Christ’s name; they like being thought of as Christians – but not all of them ought to do that. When it comes to representing what He was about, the standard for authenticity is higher than a lot of people realize.

As for Art, there are no penalties for defaming him – or it – that I’m aware of. Art didn’t leave a record of teachings; historically Art has tolerated an endless procession of wannabes without laying out any clear standard of what it means to be an artist. And so we’ve got almost as many artists as religionists among us.

To be honest I think there are more bogus Christians than artists – the perceived rewards for that status are much greater. Still, art has prestige of a sort and if it were up to me I’d set the bar higher for calling anyone an artist. But there’s no authority to back that up more than language and the marketplace. Meanwhile the actual presence of Art does visit certain chosen people in a powerful way. It may bring fame and fortune with it, but more often it does not. With some it stays for a lifetime; with others it drops in for a spell and then moves on.

Of course art takes so many guises it’s sometimes hard to define. I’d like to hear your criteria for what makes art authentic. I’ve had the privilege of knowing quite a few people who I believe are real artists. I’ve also met people I thought were genuine, high-functioning artists who seemed barely aware of the fact. And then there are those who go through life wearing the label “Artist” who wouldn’t know art if it bopped them with a bolt of Christo’s pink polypropylene, or a Julian Schnabel canvas. There’s been some question over the years as to whether Christo or Schnabel even really know art.

I believe they do, although I don’t cut everyone that slack (Cindy Sherman doesn’t have me fully convinced). But I’m cautious about my judgments, realizing that Art, like Beauty, is often in the eye or ear of the beholder. People have created art from the songs of whales. One of my friends has made art from the underwater movements of tiny creatures on the bed of a river. She can find beauty in that primitive medium, then through the creative process elevate and make it visible to the rest of us. However I don’t believe art like this is created by the talent of poseurs or wannabes.

All of which goes to explain why I don’t generally call myself an artist. Artists create. I’ve learned how to convert what I see into effective visual content for editorial and commercial use. I’m a pretty good visual editor. But I don’t fool myself that these abilities qualify me as an artist. Over the years I’ve known a lot of people who traffic in visual media. Not all of them are inspired or really know much about Art, to my thinking. What some of them know best is how to sell stuff.

Like Christianity, it seems possible to enjoy the status of an artist yet not understand the first thing about Art. It’s also possible that a true artistic genius or spiritual master might be spurned by nearly everyone around them. Vincent Van Gogh made more than 2,000 paintings and drawings over roughly two decades, which were appreciated by very few before his death at the age of 37. Today his paintings sell for tens of millions. Jesus Christ was accused of being a blasphemer and was lynched by a rabid, quasi-religious mob at the age of 33. Today all kinds of quasi-religious people take status from his name – many without understanding the first thing about his real values, and how they still can get you lynched.

But all that is another line of thought. Not many analogies are perfect, and it’s probably unwise to take that one much further. But conscience does tap us all on the shoulder from time to time. And Art (or so I like to think) still sometimes whispers a word or two in my ear. Only in passing, of course – he hardly lives full time at my address. But I love it when he makes a suggestion.

As I believe he did a few days ago, after one of my “serendipity” shots. It seemed I ought to go back and work that location one more time – before the weather (in this case a massive rainstorm) obliterated the delicate details of the setting. And so, thanks to a friend who  was willing to make herself vulnerable to my lens, I came away with a painterly photograph.

Now this shot may not be Art, but to me it has something of the feel of art about it. It wasn’t enhanced, distorted or colored digitally, it’s just what I saw through my camera (vertically flipped – it’s a reflection in water). It did require very careful framing, waiting for the right light and a subject with greater than average patience. It wasn’t created for any reason other than trying to distill the essence of a fleeting natural moment into a single, perfect image. In photography that’s the challenge that always entices but rarely is grasped. Maybe I’ll do better next time – but I hope Art might have at least a tiny smile for this one.

9 Comments

  1. Reed Wilcox September 21, 2012 at 10:26 am #

    Beautiful image. I’ve pulled this up several times to study and still haven’t had a moment when I wasn’t appreciating your words about Art and the image you posted. Thanks for sharing the moment.

  2. William Cotter September 21, 2012 at 4:20 pm #

    Of those accused of art, or self-confessed, few enough deserve to be convicted. I do not know if that matters. If the artist creates something that provides somebody else with an experience beyond everyday reality, I am all for it, whatever it is. If the artist himself is visited by a similar experience in the creative process, I envy that.

  3. dennis September 21, 2012 at 10:36 pm #

    Thanks, Reed and William. I don’t really understand art – upper or lower case – very well, even though it’s clear we have some kind of relationship that has influenced my whole life. I had to go back and keep editing my post because my ideas kept evolving, then finally I had to let it be. I’ve known people with formidable gifts and it makes me reluctant to include myself in their league – although it seems I do hear art (or Art?) talking to me at odd times. Sometimes I even think Art is an instigator of trouble.

    William, I think being shot at would be an experience beyond everyday reality for most of us – there are lots of kinds of extraordinary. But an experience that engages me on both a sensory and intellectual level and creates a reference point I often return to might be art. I think art somehow integrates different parts of our minds simultaneously and that’s part of what makes it special. But here I am, thinking out loud again.

    I also believe making art is often hard work. I wrote a novel once (still intend to see it published) and seeing it through was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. And esoteric photos on the riverbank involve mud, mosquitos, hassling with camera gear and being so preoccupied with physical logistics it takes a lot of stubbornness to persist with the reason for being there. Of course I’m sure Reed, being a photographer too, understands that pretty well.

  4. Bette Ojala September 24, 2012 at 12:09 pm #

    I’ve never written on a blog before so I don’t know how verbose I can be here; I may have to do several entries before running out of breath. I enjoyed reading your essay on “art” and the “artist.” Here’s my favored approach: whenever I want to know what we’re really talking about, I start with my dictionary. For the definitions, which tend to narrow things down, but more for the etymology, which broadens and usually enlightens. So: synonyms for “art” are “skill” and “dexterity.” Skill involves discernment, and dexterity means good at using your hands. From my dictionary: “But more frequently and in its most distinct sense ART contrasts with skill, artifice, and craft in putting stress upon something more, in implying a personal, unanalyzable creative force that transmits and raises the art or product beyond….” In fact, among the definitions of art is this: “application of skill and taste to production according to aesthetic principles; the conscious use of skill, taste, and creative imagination in the practical definition or production of beauty.” I think what you’re getting at — beyond the issues of skill and taste — has more to do with the philosophy of aesthetics, beauty as something transcendant and yet capable of being perceived. (end part one)

  5. Bette Ojala September 24, 2012 at 12:37 pm #

    (part two) So I looked at “beauty,” dictionary definition: “a trait or combination of traits calling forth admiration, praise, or respect.” Both beauty and bounty are akin, way back when, with the Sanskrit word meaning “gift” and “reverence.” … So is art, in that transcendant aesthetic sense of “beauty,” that which creates a sense of the sublime in us, or which moves us to reverence on some level, when we see (or hear) it? Or is beauty itsef, in that aesthetic sense, the gift that inspires us to make things or do things in a spirit of praise or blessing? The word “bless” is related to the word “bloom.” My hope is that we can all bless life by blooming in whatever way we are moved to do — whether we are “skilled” and tasteful in our presentations or not. And that, I believe, is an art worth pursuing.

  6. Bette Ojala September 24, 2012 at 12:38 pm #

    P.S. The picture is beautiful!

  7. Holly September 24, 2012 at 1:39 pm #

    Dennis, this image is so beautiful. I’m actually surprised that you don’t consider yourself an artist since I have, from my first glimpse at your work, been in awe of it (and of you as an artist). I don’t want to go on about that because it would probably embarrass you as well as be missing the point. To me art makes me feel—it transports me. I sometimes think all humans are capable of accessing a universal creativity pool and producing art and it’s more about making that connection… Its possible for a person whomay not call herself Christian (perhaps not even know who Christ is) to exude the essence of Christ consciousness and impart that beauty and love to the world which bumps us all up a notch. This is a great gift, no matter what it’s called. In the same way a person, who is in contact with their creativity, can produce music/art that moves others to “feel.” I consider this person to be an artist and what they offer is a hugely valuable component to humanity . It really doesn’t matter what he/she thinks of him/herself. Art makes us feel, it allows us to shift consciousness, doesn’t it? To me, that’s the criterion. Do I feel something? Okay I have to add: My husband believes that anyone genuinely attempting to create art should be respected and if I/we don’t feel anything, I/we should concede that perhaps we simply don’t understand the artist/art. I suddenly feel like Eleanor Roosevelt, trying to define “human rights.” :) And I’m rambling instead…

  8. Debi Partridge September 25, 2012 at 6:50 pm #

    I enjoy reading your thoughts. You gave some interesting points about art and christianity! I have been drawing most of my life. At a young age, my imagination would try to figure out just how something was formed, and what color, what texture, etc. At 12, I won an art contest and I knew I found my calling. I would never worry that my passion would earn lots of money or prestige. It would just create beauty for others to enjoy. So many years later, I am not rich, have had some small fame, but I continue to paint because the gift has never left me, and I have never abandoned it either. It is funny how we just call ourself an artist. What gives us the label? Speaking on myown behalf….I have a deep need and drive to create artistic images. I am inspired by something everyday of my life. Because I can’t always paint….I have also taken up photography and have found a whole new world of expression through that medium. My mind is always inspired by the world around us. I feel God’s creation speaks to us in so many ways. By painting or capturing an image, I can give praise to the one that gave me the talent. The chatter of my imagination exists and is communicated to my minds eye.

  9. Debi Partridge September 25, 2012 at 7:12 pm #

    Part II…. Dennis, your photograph is nice. I like the fact that is a “real” image. You could not reproduce it, just as I could not paint the same thing twice. I can’t tell someone what is “art” and what is not. Art takes on many forms and is an expression from the person creating it, then conveys an expression to the person interpreting it. I think it is fascinating to see how different the outcome can be between the creator and the viewer. I think a lot of artistic ability is expressed and driven by emotion. By unleashing different types of emotion, creativity flows in different patterns and styles. At a point in my own life, my work became very dark, as my spirit was. Through healing….it then became very bright and light. And now, a time of calm, it is balanced and positive energy flows through the interpretation of each piece.
    Knowing that art can be such a healing force, I share my talents with others in trauma situations. Children and youth are especially impacted by the realization of finding a new self-esteem emerge when they discover what their mind is capable of creating. I have worked with young people in juvenile detention centers, from abusive backgrounds and even war zones (Afghanistan). They find a whole new way to bring out the deep demons of their pain, and turn them into something beautiful on paper. It sometimes seems that people come to life when color is transformed on paper.
    So,Dennis…..you do often capture images in your photography that provoke an emotion in me. Sometimes one will be more so than another. So what is an interesting question…..what is the reason certain images stir our minds more than others? God Bless, my artistic friend!

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