On art

A friend recently mentioned my “Epic Fail” post on a Metafilter comment thread. I’ve been checking back periodically to see whether the arguments are still going or if they’ve died down. I am intrigued to note that the discussion seems to have veered away from feminism and toward art (well, some of it has. The part I find most interesting).

I really like talking about art. I am tempted to make myself a Metafilter account and leap right in, but I don’t have the time and besides, if I want to spread my crackpot ideas around the  internets, I have my very own space right here.

I think about art a lot because art is what I do. Honestly, the only reason I write (as opposed to sing) is because I have some native ability there. If I could dance or cook or paint or build gigantic bizarre installations at anything like the same skill level, I might be doing that instead. I’m not fussed about the medium; I just want to get out there and art it up.

I sometimes think art should be a verb: the impulse to art, the tendency to art, quick get me a bucket I’m gonna ART…

I don’t like definitions of art (the noun) because people  insist upon quibbling about the borderlines – X is art, Y is not – and I find that tedious (also, I get silly and end up talking about toilets, and who needs that?). Art has no borders that can’t be redrawn. Some artists spend their entire careers just stretching those borders. That’s what they find exciting, and more power to them. That’s not a question that moves me, particularly.

Here’s what does move me: subjective experience. That’s what I look for in art. The artist is a lens held up to the face of the world, showing everything from an unaccustomed angle, revealing what is hidden, making the old look new. Art (to me) is a burning need to share the subjective, to say, “Here’s what I’ve seen, what I’ve felt and thought and tasted, loved and wondered and fought. This is what it was to be me.”

That may sound like egotism, and I admit it’s a fine line. But egotism says, “Look at me!” whereas art, I believe, says, “Look through me, because the world is fascinating (or other adjective of choice) and I want to show it to you.”

The things we often take for art – virtuosity and technical skill – I would call craft. Good craft can make the lens less obvious (and poor craft can do quite the opposite), but it’s always there, and you can always see it if you know how to look. Sometimes you have to deduce its dimensions from the negative spaces around it. Me, I like seeing the lens. I tend to think the lens is the entire point, rather than what is shown on the other side.

My favourite authors tend to be the ones I recognize as kindred minds, as my people – Terry Pratchett, Lois McMaster Bujold, George Eliot. I read their work and see a person who has suffered what I’ve suffered, loved where I’ve loved, been through the same fires and come out the other side. But they are not me. They come to different conclusions, try different solutions, broaden my conceptions of what’s possible, and give me a new angle on my own challenges. They don’t have answers; they have experiences.

And this, I think, is what art is for. It’s a signpost on the road, saying, “Humans have been here before. It’s a rough road ahead, but you do not walk it alone.”

3 thoughts on “On art

  1. Back in July 2007 you explained art in a blog post (http://webamused.com/milkbreath/?p=1535) in a direct way that I wish I had heard when I was a child. Since reading that post I have become more receptive to the idea of experiencing art outside my comfort zone, now that I see that evocation of emotion is itself a craft that can be noticed:

    “He’d looked a little confused. ‘What is all the art doing here, mom?’

    ‘Well, we’re going to look at it. And when you look at it, it might make you _feel_ something, or _think_ about something, or both. That’s what it’s _for_, to help us look at things and think about things in a new way.'”

    So thanks.

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