Saturday, December 03, 2005

Yes... But Is It Really "Art"?

Once, years ago, I was left waiting in someone’s kitchen while she had to go take a phone call. I sat looking around at the room, and noticed they had decorated in a colonial country-kitchen style.

Next to me was a wall with wallpaper that had repeating patterns of a picture of a barn, with trees around it, stacks of hay, and an old tractor. Also on that wall was a framed painting of a barn, with trees around it, stacks of hay, and an old tractor. Basically the same elements, but slightly different in a few ways. She probably thought it made sense to decorate to a consistent theme like that.

I looked at this and it struck me that essentially both of these things were paintings of the same subject matter, from a slightly different angle, and yet one was considered “art” and worth framing, and yet the other was merely decoration and only suitable for mass reproduction, and pasted to the wall as background. What was the difference? Was it mere chance? Was it simply that one artist was commissioned to paint a depiction of a farm scene specifically for wallpaper pattern, and the other was intended from the outset to be a framed painting? Is that the only difference between art and decoration? Expectations for how it would be used?

No. That’s not it. There IS a difference.

I looked at the scene in the wallpaper. It was accurate, detailed, well-positioned, good perspective, good balance, etc. Nicely rendered. But it seemed meaningless. It was somehow "empty".
I looked closely at the scene in the painting, and found that in this case, it conveyed more than just the physical shape and sizes and colors of the objects in the picture. In this one, I could tell that it was early afternoon. I could feel the warm sun and a lazy air that felt like I had lots of time left in the day to do what I needed to do, and I could afford to spend a little time looking through the barn. Maybe I could walk over to that tractor and climb into the seat and wonder who the men were who sat in that seat over the years. What they thought about in those long hours out in the fields by themselves. I pictured an old farmer driving hour after hour looking down the rows he was cutting and thinking about his life. The choices he made, the ones he didn’t make. Trying to plan and strategize for the future. Worrying about whatever the current problem was. I looked at exactly where the tractor was sitting and wondered, “Did he park it there deliberately? Or is that just the last place he turned it off and never got around to moving it out of the way – not realizing at the moment he turned the key to off that it would stay in that exact position summer, fall, winter, and spring, for the next 50 years?”

The difference between the wallpaper version and the framed painting was that the painting conveyed a message. And it conveyed an emotional state. And that, I think is the key to art.

In my opinion, if it conveys a message, especially a message with emotional context, from the artist to the audience, then it is “Art”. If it has no message, if it does not say anything to you, then it is merely decoration.

What is the goal of the artist, if not to express that which is in their soul, and communicate that to others? Paintings, sculpture, music, poetry, fiction, photography, etchings, glasswork, computer graphics, cinematic film, acting, dance, etc. These are all means for one soul to speak to other souls through various mediums.

And an artist can usually see the message of other artists on several levels at once. A true artist can listen to music and see the picture in a song. They can look at a painting and hear the music that lives in the picture. They see the dance in the sculpture, and the poised sculpture in the midst of the dance.

I believe that within each of us is an inner being, a soul. It is that which animates us. It is the difference between seeing a person who is alive and thinking, talking, moving, walking, and the corpse of that person once their lifeforce has left them. It is definitely there, it is completely obvious to an observer, but you cannot see it in a microscope. Trying to see the soul of a person by examining their body through a microscope, is like dismantling a radio to find the music. The music plays through the radio, just as the soul plays through the body. The physical body is the medium through which the soul exercises it's intent.

When a person is very intelligent, we say they are “very bright” or even “brilliant” - like a light that is strong. When we see an especially talented person, we sometimes call them a “star”. Again – another form of very bright light.

So I think of our "light" as being our soul, our intelligence, humor, personality, knowledge, logic, insight, love, caring, emotions, despairs, our fears, hopes and dreams.

When I write and record music, I am investing a part of my light into it. It is that which animates the music and gives it life – in the hopes that doing that will make it “art” and not merely decoration. I suggest the term “decorative music” is music that is put on in the background while you are doing something more important like talking, or eating a meal, or shopping in a store, or taking an elevator ride. It is something that does not command a person’s attention. It does not speak to them or convey an emotional message – it merely helps to set the ambiance of an environment like the temperature, or the lighting, or a pleasant fragrance, etc. It is sonic wallpaper.

When a person creates “art”, they are sharing their “light” with the world. And this is why, in the case of all my music albums, I have named them using the word “light” somehow in the title. And the specific use of the word light is related to the nature of the music within that album. Since the music is a sharing of my light, the title reflects that. Here are examples:

Early Light Volumes 1 and 2: These albums are my earliest works. I think of them as being in the very early light of dawn of my musical life

Morning Light: This album was a little later, the music is still early in my music career, but by now the light is a little more clear and the day is defined.

Moonlight: This album is about dreams. The first song is about waking from a dream but later finding you merely woke up into another dream. Moonlight captures the whole nighttime drama of all the succession of dreams I go through, like an adventure.

Inner Light: Here an attempt to express my inner feelings about various things. A variety of thoughts and feelings expressed in a variety of songs.

Instrument Lights: These are instrumental songs, Here I want the audience to pay particular attention to the light I have invested in the guitar solos, or inter-connections between instruments, or subtle layerings of different rhythms, the resonances between instruments, etc.

The Light of Sun and Moon: This is about the complimentary opposites of day and night. Joy and sadness. Daylight and moonlight and things that exemplify each. The front cover has a daylight scene, the back cover has a moonlight scene.

Light ‘em UP!: This is a high-energy rock album intended for the 101st airborne stationed in Iraq. I do not support starting the war there, but I do support the dedication, sacrifice, and general professionalism and sense of honor of the men and women that accepted their assignments and went to put themselves in a dangerous situation to complete their duty. This is about the light that shines within those kinds of souls.

Natural Light: This one is an acoustic album. Acoustic guitars have a natural, wood-based sound that brings out the natural clear light within. It touches a clean, pure place within us.

Soft Lights: This is an electric band sound, and it has energy, but it is more refined than most rock. It has a smoother, softer, sound. A more sophisticated, cosmopolitan sound. It suits a smooth jazz radio station format, though it is not all jazz songs. There is a feeling that I cannot express in words very well, but I have expressed it here in this music. I cannot define the music precisely. In this case, the music defines itself.

So those are my ten albums to date. My body of musical work. 105 songs. They represent the investment of my inner light and energy and whatever skills and talents I may have picked up or developed along the way.

You have a light within you. As a human being, you have thoughts and feelings that you could share. If you develop the techniques for one of the artistic mediums, you can create art and share your light as others have. No one says you have to earn your living from it to be an artist. You simply have to create something that contains a bit of your spirit. Push something positive out into the world, and let it see the light of day.
Give someone else a piece of your light. You never know when something you say or express will give someone else the hope and strength to keep going, or it may be just what they need to hear to get through a troubled time, or to achieve a great thing.

The world is often beautiful and wonderful, but sometimes also a dirty, ugly and painful place. The more art we can create, the better we can make it for everyone. I hope that you can find a way to express the light within you, by making your own art.


At 6/04/2006 11:31 AM, Anonymous igor said...

Personally, I long ago settled this question ("is that art?") for myself:

as I don't consider myself an artist - so if I can do like that - then that is NOT art. all those abstract "things" (which I can produce at the rate of 10 per minute...;-)


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