Sunday, March 2, 2008

Mental Health Day(s) and Art/Craft Musings

It's awful that the way my life is set up right now, the only thing I can afford to miss is my time in the studio, which is also the only thing keeping me moderately sane. By Thursday, I was not feeling moderately sane. I was barely able to function, and I realized I had to go home. I haven't had a break since October, and so I took a few mental health days. It's been beautiful - sleeping 12 hours a night, blobbing on the couch, seeing my family. My grandparents came down, which was really nice, and my grandmother even bought a few pieces. Love that.

I finally submitted my application for the dual degree program last night, meaning that I'll know soon whether I'm doing two degrees or one. It's very frustrating, this school would have been a safety school for me when I applied the first time round, but because I'm now coming from art school, there's this prejudice. I've noticed this all around, that artists are perceived to be less smart, that we're often seen to be either stuck in art as a last resort because we're not smart enough for anything else, or wasting our intelligence. As someone who has always been at the top of her class, 1560 SATs, never had a problem with academics, this is intensely frustrating. But I do sometimes see it in people around me. I think the problem is that people have internalized that attitude, that art is fundamentally different from academics and requires no knowledge of the world outside of personal experience. And certainly some good art comes out of a very limited worldview, some art wouldn't be as good if it weren't from such a specific place. But the upper middle class slackers are often just too lazy to learn, and chose art because they wouldn't be forced to learn there. Like Andy Warhol's quote, "Art is anything you can get away with." You know what? Screw you, Andy. Look, if you've had no new experiences in your life, if you come from a place that's "been done" and have no new insights on it, there's no way to make good art out of that, by my definition. I feel like real art requires either a fresh insight on something personal, OR a connection or reference to something in the world, some new piece of knowledge about how the world connects, some commentary. And for that you need to KNOW THINGS. Read books. Go to other countries. Take classes. Try to understand how and why things are the way they are. Sexism, racism, classism, poverty, hunger, war, mythology, xenophobia, these are the experiences humanity has been defined by. I feel like good art NEEDS knowledge, connection, empathy.

And what about things that are just pretty? I'm torn. I think at the end of the day art needs to talk about something, speak with its own voice. Sometimes that can be about innovative form, or space, or expressive color, but I honestly feel like then it has to be that much more impressive, that much stronger. I'm sorry, pretty doesn't cut it for me at the end of the day. Does that make me a traitor to jewelry, especially? Maybe. I would restrict the category of art to pieces that talk about something outside themselves. Either narrative work, or pieces that go REALLY above and beyond in how they interact with the body, what they say about space and form. By my own definition, perhaps the majority of my work wouldn't fall into that category. That's OK. I don't feel like a piece has to be "art" to be valuable, either. Craft is impressive, craft is valuable, craft is a language unto itself. And into the category of craft, I would add most representational painting and drawing and representational sculpture. Just because these are older mediums doesn't mean they are inherently more valid.

And why does it matter? The art/craft distinction? I think the dividing line comes back to where I started from - intelligence as it is measured in the outside world. Knowledge, connection, allusion, insights about the stuff of life. Perhaps even in my perfect world, where art and craft are acknowledged and valued separately, artists would still be looked down on by those in academia. But at least then it would be easier to see it for what it often truly is - a yearning for a life they didn't have the courage to grasp. Luann points out in her blog, "As Bruce Baker says so enchantingly, “To ‘normal’ folks, artists are people that ran away to join the circus!” Fair enough. But is it too much to ask that intelligence and insight and real content not be dismissed just because they're found under the Big Top?

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