Friday, May 18, 2012

...But Is It Art?

                    art:  (ärt) noun 1. any form of human activity that is the product of
                       imagination and skill...
                                                       ~Gage Canadian Dictionary

With art and The Arts on my mind a lot lately, I have become very away that we all define art as something different, depending upon our own individual experience.  I have been told that art is only what you can hang on a wall.  That it is things like opera and ballet, obscure entertainments for the elite, but not for regular folks. That the people on the street don't understand art unless they have a university degree.  That true art is made by those passionate amateurs who squeeze it in between their day job and sleep.  That those who wish to be paid are "sell-outs", or worse, con-artists.

I have also been told that what I do is not really art.  The kinder critics inform me that I make fine craft.  (The "fine" is there to differentiate it from "macaroni-and-glitter" craft.)  Those less kind inform me that making yarn is not an art-machines can do it.  That knitting is not an art-grandmas can do it.  Weaving, well, sure, that's an art-except that since I only do plain-weave, maybe not so much. And best of all, I have been told that if I were a "real artist", I would be making art, not teaching.

I have been told all of these things, and more, by people who themselves profess to be artists.  And if artists can't agree on art, how can the rest of the world?  So I've decided it's time to re-define "art".  Or, rather, remind people of the actual definition of art.

Art is not something other, it is a part of the human experience.  Art stems from our observations of the world around us, both the natural and the mechanical.  Art comes when we apply the physical skills we have to our observations.  And for some of us that means painting a picture.  For others, it means telling a story.  Yet others dance.  Or make yarn. 

All of us are born with imagination.  We all have the power to observe the world around us through sights, sounds, smells, tastes and touches.  We all have responses to our experiences.  We laugh, we cry, we get angry, we hurt.  We live.  And all art is is the expression of the experience of living.

Now, not all of us have been trained to wield a paintbrush or execute a perfect arabesque.  In fact, most of us have not.  But we can still see the beauty around us, and we can choose a way to express our response that fits our skill set.  We can create a cozy home, or tally up a tidy column of numbers, or build a solid shed, or plant a garden, or cook an appetizing meal.  We can go to plays and movies, read books, or follow the patterns designed by others to make our own object of beauty. We can stand still and appreciate a beautiful sunset.  We can show a child how to arrange macaroni in the shape of a flower and sprinkle glitter on it to make it pretty.  In doing all of these things, we celebrate imagination and skill. 

There are those who have trained their minds and bodies to execute a skill that conveys their experience to the rest of the world.  Painters, dancers, singers, writers, designers, architects, sculptors, filmmakers, and makers have all worked hard to find a way to express that experience.  They share their observations with the rest of the world through the products of their labours.  They place experience in a physical context for us to see.  We don't always recognize the perspective, and it may make some of us uncomfortable, but for others, that viewpoint resonates and they see the art.  Our own skills may not extend to the designing and making of beautiful objects, but we all have the skills to choose, to combine, to rearrange, and to place context on the expressions of others.

Art is not other.  It is not strange, or unapproachable.  It is not a privilege reserved for the very rich or the very educated.  Art is our human experience, made physical.

Go out and make art.  Or live life.  It's the same thing.

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