Thursday, January 07, 2010

Art & Emotion

One of my long-time favorite books, since its first publication in 1991, is Art & Physics by the late Leonard Shlain, and subtitled Parallel Visions In Space, Time & Light. Dr. Shlain, according to the review I read that led me to it upon its debut, was moved to write this examination when two simultaneous things happened: one, he wanted to expand his mental world beyond medicine and started studying physics, and his daughter was studying art in school. He began to take her to art museums beyond his Mill Valley home (which was where I was living at the time, too) and she started looking askance at some of the modern and contemporary art, asking “Why is that art?” It’s a good question, and having an active mind, Dr. Shlain began to compare his studies with hers and found a decided parallel with what goes on between art and the scientific world.

One of the reasons I love the book is because his conclusion is that the collective consciousness of artists has, historically, preceded that of scientists. I’m not taking sides over that issue, though surely you know by now that my pompoms are made up of all the colors of Art.

But that isn’t the point of today’s blog entry. I was just reminded of it when I typed out the working title of this examination as “Art & Emotion.” I’ll leave it at that. It puts down, bare bones, what I am feeling today.

Just like many, I tend to squirrel my emotions away into a handy tree spot until I think I need to dredge them out. For the last couple of days, though, they have seem to have overflowed the hiding spot and are spilling in unexpected rivulets down the bark of the tree. I won’t go into where or how, though I will divulge that the cause is because of my deep feelings for my dear father-in-law and WWII hero, Milt Rhea, who is currently dealing with the difficult effects of a stroke.

So, I am turning to art. It’s a good place to go. Art & Emotion; it’s another dimension that I am walking into, much as Alice did when she stepped into the frame of the mirror.

Last year, the response I received from a number of people regarding my art work, from visitors to a show, purchasers of my work and recipients who were given framed prints, has been moving beyond any expectations I have had (not that I even had such expectations). One friend, who purchased “Left & Right” to place above the mantle in her family’s living room, described to me how much magnolias (the subject of the piece) meant to her mom and to her, and in telling the story brought us both to tears sitting on the couch facing the spot it would go. I was surprised. I didn’t realize that my work could touch a deep spot like that for people. I had thought of it more as an expression of whatever I was thinking or feeling, or even just an aesthetic vision/challenge to accomplish. I didn’t mean to move her, and I didn’t mean to be so moved myself, but it was a seminal moment for me to realize the power of art.

Another time, during the reception of my first featured show at Gallery House, someone who identified himself as an “art critic” introduced himself and commented something along the lines of my work has depth and meaning. It was the end of a long evening and I needed something interesting to happen, or at least a respite from being so polite -- so, I couldn’t resist challenging him on what meaning he was seeing. He chose to examine the lilies and rose in “Great Expectations,” not a piece that most like to single out (but which I think can stand up under critical conceptual analysis). His comments hit me in the gut: he talked about the loneliness he saw there, and the pain of separation, and the ruined expectations that come from relationships. Clearly, the piece was a mirror to him and he was describing himself. Is that what art is to us as humans?

Another time, someone dear to me gave the brightly poppied “Sonrisa Linda” to someone dear to her. The description I received later of the moment the gift was made, filled me with wonder. The recipient cried when she opened the gift, and told how much she loved it, adding, “It was the first real piece of art I have ever owned.” Real art. Hearing that, I feel like a real artist. It’s a responsibility. It gives me pause. It makes me want to work harder at it, to be better, and to create meaningful work every day.

So today, before going to the studio to work, I walked around and looked again at the many pieces that I have framed and are hanging in my home. There are two works that especially speak to me emotionally. One is “Hole In The Soul,” (you can see it at the beginning of this entry) comprised of bits and pieces of plant materials I stuffed into my pockets while taking a walk through the local park. They are such mundane bits of nature, dandelions, Chinese pistache leaves, nicotiana. I had planned on using the central part of the background to highlight something else, something I had created to add in with yet another Photoshop layer. But the time I was working on this was when my stomach had a big hole in it from losing first my cousin who was a close friend, and then within months, losing his father, my uncle who we all loved dearly too, and I realized that iteration was it. It was an inadvertent expression of what was going on for me, and I used the title to remind me of that in case I ever try to squirrel away those important feelings.

The other work is one which comforts me, “Hostabalone” (also posted above). It’s an awkward title, kluged from the hosta plants and the two abalone shells which are layered into it, shells which I brought back from China, intrigued by their green and detailed beauty and unlike any I have seen here. The lovely curvature of the hosta leaf seems to cradle the two shells, with the creamy white flowers all turned toward them (except for one turned away, lest it become too mawkish). It’s almost as if, given the protective embrace and the similarity in natural color if not organism, it is an expression of how important it is for all of us to protect and care for each other. I don’t know which one I resonate with most, the protective mother or the fragile smaller beings.

All I want to leave you with is...Art is important for all of us. Don’t forget its intrinsic importance to your life. Use art. Surround your self with it. Let it touch you and reveal what you have inside of you, too.


At 7:47 AM , Anonymous Julia Watson said...

I was at Gallery House on Friday, saw some of your work and bought two of your notecards. At home, checking out your blog, I was intrigued by so many little things you mentioned that overlap my own interests (writing, "Art and Physics, e e cummings among other things). I was especially interested by this post about the image "Hole in the Soul". It was available as a notecard at Gallery House, and at first I picked it up, ready to take it home. But the more I looked at it the more I was disturbed by it. Maybe that's too strong - let's say the image was unsettling. It's that hole in the middle! I couldn't take that home with me. In the end I chose two other cards, and when I read what you wrote about this image I realized why I didn't choose "Hole in the Soul". I've been there - don't want to go again!
In another post you say that you wanted to make meaningful art, not just "pretty" art. I'm an artist, and I struggle with that too, so your post resonated with me. But in "Hole in the Soul" I think you've done both. It's both beautiful and meaningful.


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