Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Revelations about Art

Spring 09 Alexis Donkin
Teaching someone else about art has expanded my understanding of the visual space in a way that was completely unexpected.  People say that you learn best from teaching and to some extent I knew this from my time as a teaching assistant at UCSB.  It wasn't clear to me that I could learn to think about visual space in a more in depth way until I began teaching painting.  I foolishly thought I knew everything I needed to know.  How foolish and shortsighted of me! Art is a deep and complicated thing, there is always more to learn, even for someone who is a part of its unusual world. 

People who are not involved in the creation and promotion of art don't necessarily understand the vocabulary or that an entire series of subcultures could exist surrounding the stuff.  It is a world  hidden from view, only to be glanced at through the lens of specific pieces which are deemed acceptable to hang on the wall or placed centrally in the garden.  There is no interaction in the creative process.  There is no development of in depth analysis - there is only "I like this. It's pretty."  And really, what does that mean?  It tells me absolutely nothing about a piece.  It only says something in the work spoke to that person and matched their series of preferences, but it doesn't tell me what is compelling about the piece, what colors, techniques, and references had been used.  When a person says they like something, it tells me about the person, not the object they enjoy.  In order to talk about the object, one needs to have a specialized vocabulary.

Artists talk about negative and postive space.  Foreground and background relationships are manipulated.  Color, object, placement and technique of the media being used are all explored and developed into a visually pleasing completed piece.  It is an adventure to the eye and a window into the soul of the creator and indeed society as we know it.  Art brings into question that which is acceptable, what is beautiful, what is right in our culture in both social and political spaces.  Its true, sometimes art is just art.  This is conventional which doesn't mean it isn't worth having.  Rather it is more likely to be found in commercial spaces.  Art which pushes boundaries, high art, that which is inaccessible, goes beyond basic fundamentals of placement, rhythm and use of line and into something that questions culture at its most basic level where the expression of culture is raw and pure.  That is the purpose of high art. 

I find myself looking at paintings and sculptures in a new way.  As I  look at my own work I feel bashful, wishing fervently I had a few saws and a studio space where I could truly devote myself to the creative process. I think, maybe I should have taken another metal working class. Perhaps I should have done some screen printing. 

The thing is, I love the teaching part of it, every bit of it.  I love sharing my passion for the subject with other people.  As they reveal themselves to me, I see not only the beauty they express to the world as my students tackle and gain solid understanding of fundamentals, but also art itself reveals new things.  I begin to peel back the layers of composition, the potentials of a given medium, and the frustrations and requisites of flighty muse. It is a glorious thing.  If only more people could have the opportunity to see and understand it.

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