Art as experience Part 1

I almost always have a drive to create or experience things. Things might be better defined here as “art” only I don’t usually use such lofty terms in my head. It’s not just the joy of making something, it’s more feeling like nothing is happening and I’m wasting time unless something creative is happening in my near vicinity, and I don’t really care if that’s wrought by my own imagination. I’m perfectly happy to ride on the coattails of someone else imaginative. The only caveat here is if that involves too much time in front of the tv, because after a long chunk of time it feels like I’ve had my essence sucked out my eyes… if you’ve ever seen the Dark Crystal you know what I mean.

There is a lot of creativity in my world, and it all seems second nature to me. It’s immersive and something I highly recommend to everyone. Some folks claim a lack of creativity, which I think is a load of bull-pucky. There is a risk to being overly passive in life, for sure, but there is no lack of art experience in life. Maybe a turn of phrase or examining things from my point of view might make art more obvious.

My hope here is that people might think about how to have this more prevalent in their own lives. Art, creativity, fun… these are all things that everyone needs. I think it’s a part of being a sane, whole, happy and healthy human being. Creative ventures are some of the best ways to remember that we don’t need to take everything so serious all the time. I exert my own creative energies through drawing and music most frequently, but to a lesser degree I play with sewing, embroidering, knitting, “crafting” and gaming.

The Visual

Drawing is very empowering. I personally have a very hard time sitting and drawing a still life. That’s not my forte. Granted, because of that I make myself go out to Dr. Sketchy’s drawing sessions now and again where I can draw models and drink beer.

I feel much happier coming up with an idea, and trying to make that come to life visually. If it’s not something you “do,” drawing can seem pretty intimidating. Doodling might seem more approachable. I am good at drawing because I do it all the time. I always have. If you stopped drawing back in grade school when you drew skyscraper godzilla battles in 5th grade, then your skills have atrophied. Drawing is a skill, meaning that if you invest enough time and effort then you will turn out something good.

Even if you don’t want to invest the time into actively drawing yourself, or painting, then there’s a lot to be gained to going and checking things out. A lot of times it’s seeing other work, other ideas, that might trigger the desire to make something myself, or figure something out. Earlier this year a friend took me to the opening of the new wing at the MFA. Aside from the outstanding cheese and food available beforehand, I was really excited to tear through the exhibits and see some beautiful stuff. There was a lot to visually digest, from the stained glass (if you don’t know anything about stained glass, try to go with someone who can tell you something about it, it’ll be twenty times more rewarding), to beautiful landscapes, to a painting so big that the existence of this wing is the first time this painting’s been hung in ages.

It was so many months ago that I am having a hard time with my recall on all the things that struck me so deeply about the pieces in the new wing. For me, since I predominantly do work in my sketchbooks, I love when samples of an artist’s background material is on display. Their own meticulous notes and plans for a painting, or their incoherent scribbles that turn into something really pretty. I work hard at what I make, and sometimes I feel like my inability to produce on queue and the first time through pushes me to think I’m incompetent. Seeing an artist’s sketches or notes is a hint at the tomes of work that they did to produce something. It’s empowering for me to see that, but it also gives me a deeper appreciation of a painting or sculpture to see some of the work into making it.

I had a similar experience a few weeks ago at the Guggenheim in New York where a Kandinsky painting is deconstructed through an exhibit that shows the sketches, notes, preparatory paintings and explorations that the artist went through in order to create that painting. Even something as simple as a photo of Kandinsky brought to mind, for me, the time period he was working in, snapping into focus the idea that he was really venturing out into something weird and different and new at the time, something I don’t appreciate nearly as much just looking at an abstract painting on a wall with a 4 sentence caption alongside.

Art isn’t always in museums. Sometimes you need to hit up galleries as well. Galleries can seem intimidating when you know you don’t plan to buy anything, but really it’s just another space to check out art when it comes down to it. There’s an exhibit of Froud material at the Animazing gallery in New York that both stunned and enlightened me. First off there was work from multiple Frouds, secondly there were figures and sketches from some of my favorite movies (Labyrinth, the Dark Crystal), and there were a lot of works on paper. As an artist and illustrator I sometimes feel that my medium of choice is second-rate because you rarely see paper in a museum. Given that I have to be able to store all my work in a tiny amount of space and need to be able to put it away, that isn’t going to change any time soon. It was awesome to see the originals of the pressed fairies up close and personal, checking out the pencil lines and the splay of watercolor. It was both visually pleasing, and a learning experience.

Visual art doesn’t always have to be “fine.” Personally I want art to be attainable by everyone, to put wherever they want. Some of it should be touched, played with, and used. Some of it should be observed. My favorite exhibit this year was at the Guggenheim, a installation called “Maurizio Cattelan: All.” A hefty sampling of the artist’s works were hung in a very jumbled fashion from the atrium of the museum, and as you walk up the corkscrew ramp of the museum the audience can gander at more and more of the artist’s pieces. This was an absolute visual playground and guessing game where some things were unclear or indistinct until you got further up to the top. The art was transformed in some ways by my own perspective depending on where I was standing. Some pieces made absolutely no sense until I was closer or above or below the piece. The jumble of pieces overall is a sort of irreverence that I really love. It helps that I built an installation that let people hang art in it however they wanted this past July and it had a similar playfulness to it. Seeing the installation was both awe inspiring, invigorating, and validating of something i’d done through a very different perspective. Not only that, but the whole thing was so irreverent that I was just giggling and awestruck the whole time.

I think it’s possible to play with the visual in any number of ways. Making your own drawings, doodling on the pictures of models in a catalog, adding your own editorial bent to a coloring book, or making a crazy collage. The process itself can be invigorating, and sharing it (even if it’s shared by hanging in the bathroom) is another part of the fun. It does not need to be limited to names of famous people from set designs, or video game character designs or children’s books, or painters in a museum. If for no other reason, playing with art that you make enhances an appreciation and understanding of seeing and experiencing art made by someone else.

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