How is an artist to serve?

My Belief

All throughout my life I have been hearing sermons, it seems, one after another, about finding your calling in life and serving God. It is said that we serve God through serving others. Of course, the question brought up in the sermon is how and whom do we serve.

We are particularly called to serve the “least of these”: the hungry, thirsty, homeless, naked, sick, and imprisoned. Everyone needs to be loved, but these are the people that need to be served. But how do we serve? That is where one’s unique calling comes in. A couple years ago I was still lost in terms of a direction in life, and I firmly believe that God called me to the arts for one reason or another. For the time being though, I feel that it should be to serve with my art.

Honestly I often forget about why I initially went into the arts. I seem to have this divine guidance turning me in the correct direction, which at the time seems perfectly clear, but then my own ambitions and pride start to lead me in a direction of my own. From time to time I remember why I am here at George Fox: to develop my skills as an artist, that is to serve God with my art.

As I mentioned, I often forget this aspect of why I create, so as I am saying this I can’t help but feel slightly hypocritical. I try to make my art economically accessible, and I like giving my work to friends and family. However, I have not yet served the people I am, that we are all, called to serve. Even this project is not really doing what I think I ought to be doing. Yes, it is a kind gesture to people who will hopefully really appreciate it, but I do not think this is the fulfillment of what I need be doing.

The Project

The Church I go to here in Newberg, Hillside Fellowship, has a house, Hillside Inn, meant to provide people in a time of transition with a place to rest, heal, and grow. I am not sure why, but I felt the need put art in the Inn. So I talked to our very own Catherine Ng about the idea and she thought it was seemed like a good idea. So a month or so later, I finally met with Catherine to get a tour of “the Inn.” I quickly realized the space was not as aesthetically neglected as I had the impression of it being. Meanwhile, in anticipation, I had been talking to some George Fox alumni, current students, and professors about the possibility of loaning art to the space. I was going to set up this six month cycle which new art would be put in every six months or so. It was going to be a sort of collaboration of artists to hopefully create a more beautiful space. But like I said, the space didn’t really need it. I was slightly disappointed. However, they did mention their inadequate set of mugs…

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So I set out to make everyone in the Inn his or her own unique mug. Catherine and I talked that maybe the mugs could be a sort of Christmas gift to the people staying in the Inn. She also mentioned to me that this could work for my service project, because it was very similar to the project of Rachel Rudeen (she was actually a recipient of one of Rachel’s mugs). Naturally, this became my final project.

This is a video of me throwing some of the mugs for the project. While making the video I did not realize my leg was in the way, but I added a fun little filter that seemed to compliment and enhance the poorly executed video.

This project had a surprising amount of problems and worries associated with it. Some of my worries were questions like what kind of mug do I make them? Do I want them to all be the same? All different? Different but with “Hillside” written on them? I’m very much a believer that a mug in someway reflects a person’s character, so I decided to make them all different. This also forced me to make mugs that I would not normally make. At the same time though, reflecting on Grace and Necessity, this made me feel like I was sacrificing some of my artistic integrity in order to make work that hopefully someone would like and use. Lets be honest, most people are turned off by the idea of using a highly textured asymmetrical mug with a wavy rim. I also struggled with the idea about who was being glorified in this project. This could mean a few things, but I particularly didn’t want the project to become about the artist. Art tends to become much more about the person making it than it is about the work itself.

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I am not quite sure about how this project will end, for the residents living at the Inn have not received the mugs yet. I actually want to distance myself from the actual giving of the mugs. In the larger picture though, I feel like this project has made me start to think about why I am studying art here at Fox. I am an artist because that is how I am to serve the Kingdom of God.

 

To have an Identity

 

Identity is a hard thing to talk about; the word identity carries a lot baggage. Our identity within a society is often at odds with how our heart desires to be identified. It seems like our lives in one way or another is a wrestling between the identity of our past and the identity we wish to have; and there is a sort of dissonance between the two identities.

When people ask who I am or what I do, depending on the context, I say I am an artist, or an art student. I am identifying myself as an artist. I have only started to do this recently, in the last six months or so.

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Althea Murphy Price, Flow n’ Go 

I read several articles regarding identity from OnBeing; an “a Peadbody Award-winning public radio conversation and podcast, a Webby Award-winning website and online exploration, a publisher and public event convener.” There seems to be a common sense of confusion about identity. There is this deep questioning of how does ones cultural, sexual, racial, ethnical, and religious identity fit together to form one unified identity that is accepted in society? Essentially, though, our sense of identity is our human desire to belong and have our identities affirmed, making us confident and secure about who we are, where we come from and who we wish to grow.

So I said I was an artist. I have a lot of insecurities packed up with that self-label, artist. I feel by calling myself an artist I in ways trying to become more confident with my new identity. However, I often go home. I go home to realize I am not sure how my new, or newly realized, identity fits in with boy I was at home. One problem is that people know me purely for who I use to be. But perhaps the largest problem is that they do not understand who I have become. Yes, I am who I use to be, but I have also changed, I have grown. Also, I have a hard time balancing what my friends at home see as art and what I have learned art to be. Like Luke Zimmerman said at Art Talk, “ I want to make paintings that my mother understands.”

On top of this, something that I do not think enough about, is my identity in Christ. Honestly, I have come up short in truly having Christ at the center of my life.

The question that I have been asked, now, is how does my identity in Christ affect my artwork? It is hard to think about because I am not completely mature either in my identity as an artist or as a Christian.

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Prescott Crucifix 

Theodore Prescott, in “Identity”, brings up an interesting point; the idea that every painting in some way is some sort of self-expression. That self-expression is not only something that happens in the making of art, but that it is the sole intent of the artist. When asking though, about how does ones identity in Christ gets shown in their art, the self-expression ideology doesn’t really work. Expressing only yourself doesn’t talk about your identity in Christ. He say’s that artist’s historically use  to be much less concerned about the self, and they more concerned about the larger picture. Perhaps, then, our identity in Christ is not shown through a self-expression, but in expressing the larger picture. Not worrying about ourselves, but of for the  greater of humanity.

 

It’s really interesting to think about. Although, in theory, my identity is in Christ, my identity is deeply influenced by my childhood and my art.  Sometimes. all I want my art to do is to be understood and appreciated by the people I love. Going back to what Luke Zimmerman said in Art Talk, “I want to make paintings that my mother can understand.”  This made me wonder, how can I bring this new perspective Prescott offered of how to my identity in Christ  and art function in unison, but with still having my artwork very much be about where I am from?

As of now, I am not sure how my  identity in Christ affects my artwork. I know it does, but is it being reflected the way it ought be? I am looking forward to diving deeper into this concept as I mature in my art practice and my walk with Christ.

It’s interesting to think of how these examples of identity in artwork either does or doesn’t agree with how Prescott thinks of  the artist’s identity should manifest itself in their work. 

 

 

Prayer and Work

 

Lately I have been thinking a lot about prayer; what does it mean to pray? What does prayer look like in practice? My impression is that prayer is something you set time aside to do. It’s a completely separate thing; when you’re praying that’s all you’re doing. You know, good Christians pray all the time; when they wake up, before each meal, before going to bed, and with anyone they feel called to at any random moment. While this is undoubtedly part of what prayer is, I do not think that prayer needs be limited to such a stand-alone thing.

I often have a hard praying. My mind wanders, I fall asleep, or it seems a little forced and lacking of meaning. I experience a sort of Christian guilt about the whole thing. I think to myself, surely this does not mean that I am at odds with God, and I don’t think that it does. For those who put a lot of stock in the power of prayer and a close relationship with God through prayer, to feel as if you are not praying enough or correctly can really make you negatively question about where you are at spiritually. So I go back to the thought that surely prayer is more than highly thought out articulate monologue with God. I think it is more than that. As I have been learning lately , prayer should be a much more integrated part of your life.

Fujimura says art speaks of both heavenly and earthly existence, and through Christ, the artist is able to fuse heaven and earth. It is through prayer, Fujimura argues, that the fusing of the two is possible. He talked earlier about the fusing of form and content. When thinking about prayer; the content is the Holy Spirit, and form is a lifestyle of prayer. This idea could be and ought to be unpacked (by someone smarter than me) but for now I am focused on the word “fusing.” He says, “Prayer is to our lives as glue is to pigments.”

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Makoto Fujimura, Golden Fire  website, The methodical laying of the gold leaf well brings Fujimura into a thoughtful state of prayer

So what does it mean to have prayer integrated in with every part of your life, or every part of your art? Surely this does not mean merely praying about every aspect of your life; not only seeking God’s wisdom before and after, but also during the fact. I don’t believe, mainly based on my own feelings that this needs to look like what prayer traditionally looks like. You know, ‘Dear Lord, please be with my Aunt Ann while she’s going through this hard time. Amen.’ Maybe prayer is more or less unintentional, more of normal stream of thought that happens naturally. Like how a fisherman is always thinking about fishing. For even when I feel like my walk with God is at its strongest, I still have a hard time praying as much as I feel I ought to. I fall asleep, my mind wanders, or I feel like I have been praying for 5 hours but its only 5 minutes. I need a much more active prayer. I need my work to be my prayer. Not that working substitutes prayer but that the two are fused together.

 

This makes me think about what Brother Andre was saying about work and prayer. Prayer is a necessary part of his work. He meditates over scripture and fasts, which both are centered on prayer, in order to prepare himself to make art. Then, when he is painting an icon, he is still in a constant mode of prayer. His work and prayer are fused together so that one cannot exist with out the other. I’m not sure if I would go as far to say that there is no distinction between the two, but possibly, at different parts of the process there is not distinction.

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The Icon of the Tender Mother, Brother Andre Mt. Angel Abbey

So what does it mean to pray? Does prayer have to be an isolated event which one stops everything he or she is doing to think up specific words to pray? Or, like the fisherman is constantly thinking about fishing and becoming a better fisherman, can prayer be a constant stream of consciousness centered around and springing from a honest search for Truth, but also very much apart of the task you are doing?

Symbolism, Beauty, Truth

What is the use of symbolism in art if the viewer cannot understand it? This question has been a frustration of mine for a little while now. It’s not that the symbolism doesn’t belong, but that it is a language that no one seems to understand. Some symbolism is simply a product of a certain art era, think specifically of Northern Baroque paintings, yet we still encounter this symbolism in online galleries and in museums. There is also a long standing tradition of symbolism in Christian art, which I do not know the meanings of and I am a Christian.

So I’m still left the same question I had before. My main frustration is not that I don’t understand symbolism, although it is a frustration, it’s more that art is seen, through the texts we have been reading, as something that tells some sort of truth, which is often revealed through symbols in some way or another. If the truth that the artist is showing us is in a language that I cannot understand, if I am trying to tell non-English speaking person the gospel in English, what Is being achieved? If I am not a Christian and no know nothing of Christianity, and I am looking at an Icon of Christ, who am I to know the significance of what is being told in the painting? Sucks to suck, might be what runs through my mind. It seems as if symbolism, like language, only serves its purpose to those who can understand it.

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St. Gertrude – Mount Angel Benedictine Abbey (anyone understand this one?)

Perhaps there is hope in this argument though. Going back to my example of language, even a song sung in a different language can be incredibly moving to the listener. Why is it moving? I would think it would be because of it’s beauty. Beauty, which for many thinkers is inseparable from truth and goodness.

In Contemporary Christian Insights: Art and the Beauty of God, Richard Harries, bishop of Oxford from 1987 to 2006, told a story of a young Russian priest who came to know Christ during the peak of the Cold War. Harries says that the priest, who grew up in an atheist family, “came across the music and icons of the Russian Orthodox Church through their beauty was lead to the truth.” It was the beauty that first attracted him to the truth.

In a recent class trip to the Mount Angel Benedictine Abbey, I got to view many Icons in person. They were gorgeous with their shimmering golden backgrounds, and saturated colors. However, I find myself be lost to exactly what was happening in the icons. Our guide, Brother Andre, the abbey’s resident artist, would often refer to looking at icons as “reading” them, so there is indeed a message to be “read” in all icons. However, the language that was “written” was not a language I knew. I did not know the symbolic nature of the various colors used; I didn’t get the contextual clues such as, for example, the yarn in the woman’s hand. So I asked him the same question I started out with. ‘What is the use of symbolism in art if the viewer cannot understand it?’ His answer was quite simple; you learn the symbolic language.

Given the last two accounts, the viewer does not have to understand the symbolism used in a work of art in order to understand that it is showing him or her truth. It is the beauty that first demonstrates truth to the viewer. But, most importantly, the viewer has to be searching for truth, to see the truth in art. Like the Russian Priest was, and like Brother Andre was and still is.

 

Sources

Harries, Richard “Contemporary Christian Insights: Art and the Beauty of God” Mowbray 1993, London, print

It Was Good: Making Art to the Glory of God, 2006, Second Edition, Square Halo Books

Brother Andre at the Mt Angel Benedictine Abbey

Beauty

With the popularity of beauty, one would think that the beauty conversation would have become platitudinous by now. Maybe for some it has become over-discussed. For rest of us, the term “beauty” seems to escape our cognition, which in return, thirsting to understand, drives us to dive deeper into the subject.

Chaplin, in It Was Good: Making Art to the Glory of God, gives a fairly comprehensive view on beauty, bringing in some of the major thoughts and theories in philosophy that have formed our idea of beauty today. He touched on beauty as being proportion, measurement, and harmony; as being biological, spiritual, used as a tool, held within its symbolism, as pleasure, truth, and there are still more ideas of beauty to be shared. With all of these thoughts to be considered the most overarching general understanding Chaplin suggests is that beauty is something that attracts us; “Beauty is something that attracts us to linger on something, to explore the intricacy of its shapes and shadows and to ponder its metaphorical associations.” (44) This definition is what draws me to ceramics, because It it invites me to explores it’s form and surface and the intricacies created within them.

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Yunomi by Akira Satake http://akirasatake.com/

It appears to Chaplin that there is a unique Christian perspective on beauty, or at least that there ought to be. He states, “If we want to start thinking biblically about the notion of beauty, we must therefore abandon this conception of a two-tier world in which earthly beauty is either a mere shadow of a or a pointer to another, higher world of capital B Beauty.”(39) This is to reject the dualism of earthly and spiritual beauty, and to think of beauty as being a feature of the one world created by the one God. Later he goes on to say, beauty should be connected with the concepts of goodness, truth, justice, and peace; things that, also, embody what art is. Through this understanding of art and beauty, art unveils something about the world, in which the world reveals itself in a new way, changing our perception of it. This does not mean that art is should be exalted, but it also means that it should not be discarded and marginalized. Chaplin says, “(Art) simply has its own creaturely way of being.” (47)

In an interview by Krista Tippet with Irish poet and Philosopher, John O’Donohue, the two discuss the topic of beauty. I believe the relationship between beauty and art mentioned above, speaks into what O’Donohue says, beauty is the “becoming of fullness.” I really found myself finding clarity with O’Donohue’s thoughts on beauty. He uses the example of a landscape to explain himself; he says, “Landscape recalls you into mindful mode of stillness, solitude, and silence, where you can truly receive time.” This idea both puzzles me and makes perfect sense at the same time; I have experienced what he is saying but cannot explain my experience. He, also, explains beauty as a “threshold”, being on the edge of and “moving into more critical and challenging and worthy fullness.” This idea of “becoming” reminds me of an idea that was recently discussed in Art and Christ; that we are constantly becoming who more of who we truly are, ultimately be completed in our heavenly state of being, whatever that looks like.

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Gary Buhler “Little Lukiamute”Acrylic on Canvas 30×80 website

Beauty is a complicated subject. There are countless definitions offered to explain what exactly beauty is. I experience beauty most often in ways similar to what O’Donohue suggests, but my perception of beauty is not limited to moments where I can “truly receive time.” Those moments where everything stops, and you are purely in the moment in which you presently experiencing. This could be when looking at a striking landscape, an embrace of a loved one, or even the more difficult moments of change and loss. Sometime I use beauty as just a recognition of something that ought to beautiful, something that is worthy of stopping time.

In the larger picture, I do not believe that one can really define beauty; however each definition has the potential to add to our understanding of the word. I do not believe that the meaning of beauty escapes our cognition, but that we try to force it’s meaning into a clean box, making it impossible to understand beauty in it’s fullness.

Because I mentioned how I find the intricacies found in the form and surface of ceramic art, here is a piece of my own.

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Wood Fired Teacup (personal photo)

Sources:

Bustard, Ned, and Sandra Bowden. It Was Good: Making Art to the Glory of God. Baltimore,      MD: Square Halo, 2000. Print.

Tippet, Krista. Interview with John O’Donohue, “Becoming Wise” On Being. May 2016. http://www.onbeing.org/blog/krista-tippett-beauty-is-an-edge-of-becoming/8636

Images:

http://www.garybuhler.com/projects/little-lukiamute-diptych/

http://akirasatake.com/index/#/yunomi/

Humble Maker: Steve Tyree

I had the pleasure of visiting with local sculptor, Steve Tyree, at his shop in the countryside outside of Amity. I first learned of Tyree about a year ago from artist and George Fox art professor, Tim Timmerman. However, until now I had yet to visit his shop where he works on his sculptures. It was very interesting to visit with and learn more about Tyree, his process, and his faith.

Presently, Tyree is a wildlife bronze sculptor, however this was not always the case. Out of college he desired to become a professional filmmaker. In 1975(ish), while working at his brother’s automotive shop, he began making small figurative and wildlife sculptures using a unique method welding layers of “beads” (the melted filler metal). People at the shop started to show interest in the sculptures, buying them for 50 or a 100 dollars, and it was then that he chose to go into sculpting full time. Now, he makes large bronze wildlife sculptures; deer, elk, bear cougar, birds, etc. often intended for public installation.

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“Bearly About” City of Lake Oswego Permanent Art Collection (link)

Process

As someone who has done bronze casting and steel fabrication, I find his process to be very interesting. Most, nearly all, bronze sculptures are made through the lost wax casting process where molten bronze is poured into a mold in which a wax model of the original sculpture was melted out of. However, Tyree fabricates his sculptures. In this context, fabrication is cutting and shaping sheets of bronze to make parts that are then welded together. In ways, this process is less technical than casting, but it is complicated in its own sense.

Tyree starts with making a maquette of a sculpture. Based on his maquettes, he then creates a full scale but simplified foam model. He facets the surface of the foam model, turning it into a group of connected shapes. Next, he transfers these shapes onto paper making a template to transfer onto sheets of bronze (so that it looks like when you peel an orange in one piece and are able to lay the peel flat, but knowing it forms a sphere). He will often work in parts, for example, if doing a bear, he will construct the legs and head independently from the body for them to be connected later. After cutting out the shapes out of 1/8” bronze sheet, he begins to bend, weld, and form them into their intended part. He then constructs the larger form out of these smaller parts. However, it is not this straight forward; These last couple steps are often done more simultaneously than I explain in my step by step approach. Here are some pictures to help visualize.

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Process photos taken from Tyree Sculpture

Faith

Tyree comes from a Catholic tradition of faith. He see’s his art and faith being integrated mostly in the sense that he believes God gave him a gift, and it his responsibility to use this gift to the best of his ability. Working, then, becomes sort of an act of worship. He lets his work speak for itself; the work should say everything that has to be said. Being as humble as he is, the work would have to speak for itself. He says, if you do good work people will notice it. He urged me to spend my time making in the studio. If you honestly pursue your art, God will provide. Also, being inspired by nature and wildlife, Tyree feels the need to do justice to God’s creation, so that other people can come to understand and see it for just that, God’s beautiful creation.

It was refreshing to talk with Tyree. It was really interesting to learn a little about his process and absorb wisdom that can only come from experience.

In our current academic situation, I believe that we, art students, often over think things. Although important in our growth as artists, we become thinkers, not makers. Steve Tyree is a maker.

Art Theology

“With a restored relationship with the good God, the follower of Christ has the potential of having a greater insight into the true nature of goodness and someone who does not follow Christ” (21)

A puzzling question that is often asked by and of Christians is what is the difference between Christian X and non-Christian X? Which is better? In this case X is art. Chapter two, “Good”, makes a very convincing claim saying there is a difference, and being Christian provides a purer understanding of goodness in the world. It is similar to the belief that only people who have experienced and know Jesus’s love, really know what love is. This belief is true in a sense, but this does not make it impossible for a person, Christian or not, to thirst and search for goodness.

 

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Edward Knipper Isaac Released. oil on panel 2007 Edward Knippers

 

Bustard uses, artist, Edward Knippers as an example of “good” artwork done by a Christian, which I would agree. Knippers’ artwork does not sentimentalize stories of the Bible, how the art done by some other Christians. There is an brutal honesty in how the Biblical stories are portrayed. However, besides the fact that Knippers is a Christian and the story of Isaac was taken from the Bible , what makes this work Christian? What makes it more “good” than a piece not created a believer of Christ? More “good” than Picasso’s Guernica?

 

Bustard says, “That it is by the mercy of God and His Grace alone that gives followers of Christ new hearts and the sensitivity of the spirit.” (22) Now, he does not come straight out and say this, but I understand what he is saying to essentially be an issue of fallen human state. My main problem with this theology is that it disregards the possibility of any nonbeliever to make “good” art. Even if Christians have a better understanding of goodness, as Bustard suggests, because it was shown to them by the mercy and grace of God (a view I do not disagree with) it doesn’t mean that there is something absolutely good about someone’s, anyone’s, honest search for goodness through their art.

This honest search is what I believe to be at the base of Williams understanding of art from Grace and Necessity. The idea that we are all connected as human beings, as beings created in the image of God, and that it is through our love of the artistic process that we make “good” work. It is not a matter of whether the artist is Christian or not, but that the artist creates with integrity.

As Christian artists I think that we want to believe this to be the case; that just because I am Christian I hold a greater capacity to show goodness and truth through my artwork. I don’t think I can fully believe such a theology, though. Naturally, such ideas sound nice. Really, though, it is a sort of Christian egocentrism.

I do not provide the  most supported argument, it’s more of an opinionated rant, but I do beleive this is a valid consideration for thought.

The Struggle

“(The Christian artist) needs to struggle to understand (goodness), and to present it as saccharine nor lost in the mire that surrounds us.” (18)

I did not completely disagree with this chapter. I found some encouragement and inspiration in it, some key take aways. In the quote above the key word for me is struggle. The idea of struggling with presenting “goodness” is something that I find really helpful. Sometimes, trying to create with integrity is a struggle, and I find myself asking whether or not I am even making anything of worth. In this part of the chapter, I am reminded that it should be a struggle, and hopefully through that struggle I am I able to get closer to the “good.”

Although I find myself disagreeing with much of the theology surrounding art presented in this chapter, I did find this chapter, overall, to be beneficial to understanding what it looks like to be a Christian Artist.

(Tim – if you get to this before I do, I will be coming back to insert photos (and edit as needed) after my class)

Going Full Circle

“You have to find what you must obey, artistically; and finding it is finding that which exists in relation to more than your will and purpose…” (p147)

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Giorgio Morandi (1890-1964) Still life from 1954. The New York Times

I find this quote to be extremely encouraging to myself as an artist. In a way, it’s a sort of challenge to the artist to pursue something bigger than oneself. The whole book is filled with similar passages that seem to empower the artist to create. I feel enlightened as I read about creating as an act of “excess”, “otherness”, etc. I learn about the integration of my faith and art and what it means to be a Christian artist. I am driven and inspired to create out of the necessity to create; to create with the same necessity God created the world with. I am on this fleeting artistic high, fleeting.

Because I soon start reflecting on how what I am reading applies to my current practices. The quote goes, “you must find what you must obey, artistically.” I think to hard about the short little sentence, which is actually quite big, and then I soon I realize how artistically lost I am. I don’t know whether I am a painter, sculptor, or a potter. I use to think of myself as leaning towards sculpture, and now passion is with clay, but all the while painting as been a constant. It’s not even my identity as one of those things that is really the issue. It’s that I am unsure where to go, what to achieve. I want my work to be good in the sense that it does good. Perhaps lost isn’t the right word; unsure, questioning, or confused are better words.

Then, I reach a passage in the text that stumps me; not intellectually, that’s a constant throughout my reading experience, but artistically. I get frustrated by an idea that William’s shares. It’s as if he tells me straight to my face that I’m a crappy artist. He says, sorry Nolan, your work isn’t all that good. Sorry, you fail at distancing yourself from what is being made; instead you manipulate the medium, conforming it to a self-concerned idea held within your head (p 161). As you (hopefully) know, it’s just an inner dialogue with myself as I come to cope with my self perceived shortcomings as an artist. From there, I go into this deep questioning of what I am doing with my art and my life as a whole.

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Watercolor Self Portrait

So this is how I feel artistically, but unfortunately there is no separating who I am as a person and who I am as an artist. For better or worse, I am an artist. So now my whole life is going through my mind. I do not know where I belong. I am essentially having an identity crisis. I am changing, hopefully growing and maturing, faster than I can process my own change. My mind is racing, unable to relax. There’s one fleeting thought/moment after another. Fleeting. Eventually I am forced to come to terms with my thoughts, to act as if I am not completely losing my mind, for it is brought to my attention, that I have friends that I love with me, and they can sense the turbulence in my crinkled forehead and distant stare.

My mind is temporarily relaxed. I continue reading, through which I realize how much I am loved. I realize once again why it is that I create; out of a “pure desire for life and joy of what is completely made” (164). I create out of necessity and love. Out of this, I trust that my work will be good, and it will do good. I do not think that this battle will ever be won. It will always be taking place as I continue to mature in my faith and art.

Now, I have gone full circle, but I’m on a roundabout that I keep going around and around because I am not sure what exit to take. My mother always told me that I thought to hard about things.

Showing the Worst of Humanity

Flannery O’Conner exemplifies what it means to write with an unfiltered view of humanity. Williams talks about her as “taking on the worst of humanity,” “not ruling out any subject matter,” “doing justice to the visible world,” and says “to ask of possible moral consequences is to disrupt this integrity.” The result, then, is that O’Connor’s writing gives us an unflinching, unfiltered view of humanity, revealing what most are unwilling to confront.

O’Connor gives us a depiction of “humanity at it’s worst” through written works, but what does that look like in the visual arts? Williams uses David Jones’ art as an example of Maritain’s philosophy of art being practiced, but I wouldn’t say Jones’ paintings take on the “worst of humanity.” So what is the painter’s equivalence to O’Connor’s work?

In an essay by Katie Kresser In Image magazine, “Night Vision: Jacques Maritain and the Meaning of Art,” I was introduced to the artist Jean Rustin. I am not even sure if Kresser was saying Rustin’s art is in any way an exemplification of Maritainian aesthetics (I exited out and when I tried to get back on, the website was asking me to subscribe, so I never really got the jist of the article and how Jean Rustin played into it. Lets be honest though, I would still confused with what was being said even if I had full access to the essay) That being said, I believe that Kresser was connecting Rustin to Maritain. If so, Rustin must be doing so in a similar way as O’Connor is.

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Jean Rustin “prés du store (near the blind)” (1985) https://www.boumbang.com/jean-rustin/

However, when I look at Rustin’s paintings I am repulsed. They are usually of solitary, physically manipulated nude figures often times in the act of sexually pleasuring themselves. I do not want to believe there is any good or truth in them, which for O’Connor and Maritain alike is inseparable. When I look at them, I do not see a person who is creating out of integrity and honesty of what is seen. As I see it, there is no neutrality in his work; he’s making the world more ugly than what it is. Maybe this is out of my own naivety that I say this. It most likely is for I have begun to notice that most of my previous critiques of particular kinds of art are indeed out of some naivety.

The more I think about it the less I am able to distinguish what makes O’Connor’s telling of the “worst of humanity” any different from Rustin’s telling of humanity. Perhaps I am wrong and Rustin’s work is pointing towards truth and some sort of “otherness.” But even if I am wrong, it doesn’t make his artwork any less disgusting through the eyes of Nolan Wagner. O’Connor seems to tell the truth without this ugliness. Yeah, her work is usually far from cheerful, but there is still a sort of respect for humanity that seems apparent in the few works of O’Connor’s I am acquainted with.

In another attempt, I recalled assemblage sculptor Edward Keinholz. But even his work seems be created in an excess of what is actually scene. While definitely pointing out issues in our culture, he doesn’t seem to be doing so from the distance required to make something with and unbiased impartial approach.

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Edward Keinholz, “Roxy’s” (1960/61) http://cargocollective.com/theshipoffools/Edward-Kienholz#.WAbp85MrKCQ

So the question still remains, what is the visual arts equivalence to O’Connor? A painter or sculptor that ‘takes on the worst of humanity, doesn’t rule out any subject matter, and does justice to the visible world. Maybe I am too visually sensitive and week, but I do not see many artists practicing justice in these darker areas of society; I see a lot of artist exaggerating and making a statement about such things.

Patient Observation

“(And) the ultimate, global judgment of any work is indeed inseparable from its congruence with what we objectively are as humans; but that congruence has to be discovered by patient attention to the particularity of what is good, even and especially when it does not instantly appear to fit in with a functional notion of what will edify or inspire.” (52)

This statement asks of viewer something that, today, seems to be somewhat of an impossibility – that is to “discover by patient attention.” It might possibly be a fact that few people seem to hold the ability to observe art for more than a minute; I don’t consider myself to be particularly good at looking at art. Now, this isn’t a new idea, but I feel like it is a subject yet to discussed from this book.

A major theme throughout the book is otherness; the idea that there are more to things than what meets the eye, that the world is made up of unrealized connections waiting be realized. Going back to page 37, Williams says, “art uncovers relations and resonances in the field of perception that ordinary seeing and experiencing obscure of even deny.” Basically saying that art makes seen the unseen. This requires a different approach to looking at art than what is culturally practiced. In the same sense that the artist’s creative making is an act of being (don’t ask me what I mean by that), the viewing of the piece requires a similar being from the viewer.

In a book I recently read for Philosophy of the Arts, Seeing is Forgetting the Name of the Thing One Sees by Laurence Welscher, avant-garde artist Robert Irwin, who’s work requires a complete sense of presence on behalf of the viewer, talks at great length about the difficulty of getting the audience to respond to his work as needed to actually see his work. In his work, Irwin (attempts to) eliminates any “additional; contextual threads,” resulting in a atmosphere that heightens the conscious awareness of what one is perceiving.  His work aims to develop of the viewer a “complexity of consciousness, it’s capacity to sustain being in presence in all of its rich variety.”

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Robert Irwin, untitled, 1971 synthetic fabric, wood, fluorescent lights, floodlights. 96 x 564 in. Collection Walker Art Center, Gift of the artist, 1971  http://www.walkerart.org/image/robert-irwin-untitled-1971-3

I believe what Williams’ idea of art requires a similar sort of presence required from the audience as does Irwin’s, whose idea of art is parallel in some ways to Maritain’s; that art is a intuitive act, a product of artistic intelligence, and that art should reveal unseen connections in the world. Both views of art require a no strings attached approach from the viewer, setting aside presumptions and meeting the artwork for what it is, not what we think it ought to be. In the words of Clive Bell, (1881-1964) art critic and philosopher,

“…to appreciate a work of art we nned bring with us nothing from life, no knowldge of its ideas and affairs, no familiarity with its emotion. Art transports us from the world of man’s activity to a world of aesthetic exaltation. For a moment we are shut off from human interes; our inticaptions and memories arrested; we are lifted about the stream of life.”

But “when the work does not instantly appear to fit in,” we have to have patience with it; it takes time and effort to view art.

Using Irwin’s experience to back what I’m about to say, the world as a whole doesn’t currently have the ability to affectively view, or perhaps more appropriately, experience artwork. Now, I am simply trying to write about what I am reading, not saying that what I am writing is absolutely correct understanding of the world and of my reading.

That said, if what I have suggested is true of audiences interaction of art, essentially that the viewing of a piece requires the same sort of ‘being’ as the making of the piece; then, I fall under the same error as the rest of the world (or at least the Western World), the inability to experience art. I do not think of myself as being good at looking at art. This made me come to think that If I cannot view art with the mindset I have suggested, then, how am I suppose to create successful work myself? And if the work that I am making is not successful (what ever that exactly means), I am only adding to the problem of a misrepresentation of what art ought to be, and thus adding to another generation of people of not getting art. Which, then, would also suggest that my making was orginally influence by a lot of bad art. (Im purely entertaining thoughts in my head, although there might be some truth to them).

Thoughts anyone?

Also, watch this short little video, its only two minutes and intriguing.

 

Sources

  1. Williams, Rowan. “Grace and Necessity: Reflections on Art and Love”
  2. Weschler, Lawrence. “Seeing is Forgetting the Name of the Thing One Sees: A life of Contemporary Artist Robert Irwin” University of California Press. Berkeley and Los Angeles California. 1982 print.
  3. Bell, Clive. “Art” copyright 1927 Trafalgar Square. Original publication 1914