When we travel, people always suggest museums and galleries they think we might like to visit. I love these suggestions–we’ve seen some amazing exhibits and met wonderful people. But the truth is that I’ve passed up many opportunities for museum-going because, for me, it’s not about the art. Looking at stuff made by people who are no longer living–people with whom I know I’ll never have a conversation–is just not that compelling.
Oh, don’t get me wrong: it’s not that I don’t like art. Art is, after all, one of the most visible expressions of creativity, and for me, that’s what it’s all about: creativity. I’d much rather watch a guy on the street creating chalk drawings of passersby than look at a Famous Painting by someone long dead. While the painting may be acclaimed as being The Finest Specimin of Its Kind & Time and the chalk drawings rudimentary at best, it’s the guy down on the sidewalk wielding the chalk that interests me. Why does he do it? Where does he get his ideas? Why do this thing rather than something else? Why chalk instead of spray paint or clay? Why public art instead of studio work? How does it *feel* when he’s down there sketching?
I have a lot of art in my house, and almost all of it was created by someone I know. The paintings and watercolors and sculptures are wonderful, but their existence isn’t why I treasure them. What makes them valuable to me is that whenever I look at one of them, I think of the person who created it, the conversation we had, what they told me about how they work and where they get their ideas. I think about their sketchbooks and studios and maquettes and the messiness of the drawers that hold their pastels–the things that remind me of what I know of the individual artist’s creative process.
It’s not about the art as a finished thing. While it may be beautiful and uplifting or disturbing or controversial or transcendent, it’s just a thing. It’s finished and wrapped up, and that’s not nearly as interesting as the process of creating it. I’d rather watch someone whittling cartoon figures out of soap or yarn-bombing parking meters or outlining a tattoo than visit a museum full of 18th century masterpieces. I want to know why people make what they make, never mind what that thing is.
When people talk about art vs. craft, fine art vs. applied art, blah, blah, blah–my eyes glaze over. I don’t care about any of those distinctions. The distinctions that matter are the ones between creativity and assembly line production, between inspiration and cranking out cookie cutter projects, between flights of imagination and painting by numbers. If someone is inspired and excited about creating something and passionate about what they do, it doesn’t matter how that manifests itself or what people think of the finished piece. There are gorgeous works of art that were cranked out by really talented people who would just as soon have been doing something else, and then there are much-less-polished pieces–think folk art, think street art–that buzz with the electrical charge of passion: the person who made them was totally into the making.
That’s where the excitement lies: in the making of it, whatever it is.
It’s all about the artist and what drives them, what sets the wheels in motion, what happens in their brain when they’re under that fabulous spell. That’s what fascinates me, and that’s what I keep trying to capture and share: what it feels like when an idea grabs you and takes you somewhere you haven’t been before.
Ricë also blogs at The Voodoo Cafe.
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