14 July 2012

Define art

Somewhere over the past several days a quote skittered before my eyes.  Had to have been on a computer screen, come to think of it, part of an email message.  Finger poised, I'd had to stop myself from pressing DELETE.  In fact, I stopped all together for the time it took me to decide not only not to delete the page but to reread, to really read the quote.  I wrote it down.  Then came the click of death.

Today.  Going through the images I made while Tal and I traveled earlier this summer.  Images of the Hudson River.  I thought of that quote again, now several pages back in the journal.  Find it.  Find it. 

And, get this, 9th grade English at Winyah High School in Georgetown SC came to mind.  Our text book was "American Literature," a 1965 Houghton Mifflin publication, edited by Schorer, Jewett, Havighurst and Kirschner.  I know that because, moments ago, I plucked it from the shelf above my desk.  I could make such an easy grab because I loved that volume so much my mother gave me the money to buy it at the end of the school year.

Photographed at the Hudson River
Maritime Museum, Kingston NY
It was that delight-filled class period which introduced me not only to the likes of James Fennimore Cooper, Edgar Allan Poe and Washington Irving, but to the Hudson River artists of roughly the same era -- Frederic Edwin Church and Asher B Durrand perhaps the most recognizable names.  I remember being smitten with the quality of the light in their paintings and wondering if it really could be so.  I didn't see the Hudson River in person until the mid-1990s.  The light they depicted some 150 years earlier was just as I'd held it in my 9th-grade memory.

So, this week, today.  Holding in tension a quote, my memory of some 40 years ago, images from late May just passed.

Art is a personal act of courage, something one human does that creates change in another.  -- Seth Godin

Art.  I grew up in a fabulous place filled with art -- representative American sculpture.  None of those 300+ works changed me, inspired me like what I saw in my treasured textbook.*  Part of that is the fact of living with all those bronze, aluminum, stone sculptures.  Too familiar.  And, for a creatively, artistically challenged child, completely out of reach.  Those hugely idealized landscapes (also unattainable for someone like me), on the other hand, were of places I'd never been.  There's a certain amount of romance in the faraway. 

What's ultimately true, however, is that one changed me, another didn't.

That's why there's all kinds of art, I suppose.  The creators -- courageous as they are -- produce something that is part of themselves and put it out there for others to look at, to like or not, even to disparage.  I think that is the reason Godin's definition of art kept me from an hasty delete.  There's nothing about beauty in it, or it having to be aesthetically pleasing or to be generally within some set of rules.  Art, whether it pleases or not, has the capacity to change. 

Recall that scene in "Mona Lisa Smile" when Julia Roberts' character, teacher Katherine Ann Watson, introduces her students to a Jackson Pollock painting.  It's wasn't of something, so it was somehow wrong, even unacceptable.  Look closely at the scene.  The students look confused.  Their lips even curl.

Art can change the viewer, changes us.  It's no wonder controlling art and the tussle over who controls art is such a hot (and grim?) topic.

The Hudson River at the Storm King

No comments: