Ever think of the guy who gets paid way too much for having painted a random splatter on canvas? Yeah, well maybe I could make a splatter too. Heck, you could make a splatter. But could we each recreate the exact same splatter? Visually, PROBABLY. With technology these days there’s really no excuse. But what if art isn’t something that’s completely visual? All those moments, events, thoughts, and feelings that came before the splatter, gets somehow imprinted into the splatter and that’s why rich people pay what they do for a kindergarten-style drawing that you or I could make on canvas for just the low low price of ten bucks a pop. Now, how that emotion (or at least the essence of it) gets captured onto splatter and subsequently transferred to another human being is beyond me. Perhaps some of us are just not privy to it. We’re not on the same wavelength. What if understanding emotions from art was just like being able to tune in to the right frequency?
So, what is art?
Art is truth. My truth. Your truth. A shared truth, or a hidden one. This summer I went to the Brooklyn Sketchbook Museum. I was skeptical at first. I wanted to “learn things” I countered to my travel companions. Let’s go to the Natural History Museum, I offered. Let’s learn the history of the world! Then comes Chloe, knocking me out of my reveries about traveling back hundreds of millions of years to see the journey of earth through time with, “Honestly? It’s just going to be a bunch of stuffed animals...”
Some people are right.
But some people will also never understand how underrated a bunch of stuffed animals are.
Against my better judgement (or so I thought), we went to the Brooklyn Sketchbook Museum. I picked up a sketchbook, not really knowing what to expect… and I had the most incredible journey. A glimpse. It was a glimpse into Neil’s life. I had never met Neil, but I now held a fragment of him in my hands. Neil sketched the female figure. A worthy pursuit, I might add. But it wasn’t that Neil was drawing naked or half-naked or semi-clothed or whatever-you-want-to-call it women, but it was the fact that Neil shared some part of himself – in the very unique combination of lines and colours he created. His artistic DNA, so to speak. This unique combination of lines and colours was how he, Neil, tried to recreate the world that he saw, and to tell the truth as it was for him. But no matter how true to form your art is, you can never capture it without putting YOUR personal stamp on it. I had a sample of Neil's artistic DNA, and it was thrilling.
You could tell when an artist was just in their infancy in the way they presented their work. You could literally feel when the work was just a cry for attention, a mushroom experience (some would literally tell you what drug they were on), or a genuine piece of who they were. Sincerity comes through in different ways, and it’s hard to explain how I knew that certain pieces contained sincerity or not, I just did. So, art is truth in the moments we try to capture.
After Neil, the I swam through a dozen more like water, but there wasn’t enough time to see them all. Hundreds upon hundreds of sketchbooks, like personal diaries, await in the shelves. Let me tell you a little bit about what I'm thinking and feeling, they beckon.
So, Art is truth, and art is emotion.
Above all, art is patience. Art is staring meticulously back and forth from your reference photo to your sketchbook and hoping you didn’t miss a splotch of colour here or a rounded-oval thing with a dent in it there. It is sitting still and forgetting about the time. It is meditative. It’s letting your hands “flow” so you’re not creating too-rigid lines. It’s using the smallest amounts of pressure, creating the faintest outline that only you know is there, and, bit by painful bit, going over those draft lines over and over until you’ve got the curve just right, the proportions just so, the negative space right where it needs to be. This is art.
These were also the reasons I started to avoid art. The experience, though seemingly unobtrusive and perhaps a little mundane, started to leave me feeling raw. It became a competition with no one in particular and it seemed crucial that to compete meant I had to win, or don’t compete at all…
This is a crippling viewpoint to have about art. While I doubt everyone experiences this, I do recognize that some might feel that way towards other things. That too, is crippling.
Sorry I don't have all the answers.
Teacher, Friend, Adventurer. (Not necessarily in that order)