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Wednesday, May 22, 2013
“Is this junk or something for your art?” an outdoor blackboard under huge healthy oak trees asks at Wonderland studio. The quote is from a man whose wife was one of the founders of Rockbridge County’s Artists Studio Tour.
I was a guest artist on the hill of their property outside Lexington. Encouraged by working with this assemblage artist (not junk artist), I was drift-and-salvage wood guy. An outdoor shed wall filled with creations from the last year was my two-day gallery. Having spent a good part of adult life working as a carpenter and contractor “making the world square, smooth, level, flat and white,” I call this abstract art “therapy work.”
An essay found in “The Gospel According to Zen” gave framework for my young life. The essay, “An Artist of Life,” by D.T. Suzuki stated, “We cannot all be expected to be scientists, but we are so constituted by nature that we can all be artists — not, in deed, artists of special kinds, such as painters, sculptors, musicians, poets, etc., but artists of life.”
Artist of life was an appealing idea for a young self torn between desire to live on the fringes like Henry David Thoreau, join the military or work in a sheet metal plant for a real paycheck. Reconciling the desire to live a creative life, but with a certain level of freedom and affluence, has likely always been an issue.
Trendy TV programs like “Glee” attempt this by showing possible advantages of life on the fringes as outsider and observer. I’ve often thought it’s not bad living without a regular paycheck. But long-term effects of living around too much poverty, suffering, ignorance and associated problems can be a drain on many levels. There comes a point when every artist type just wants to get a job with regular hours and health benefits. Not long ago, every practical person wanted that MBA degree because business was where money was made. Why work in the factory when you can help run it? My nephew took this route, and so far, after tough years of schooling, it paid off, at least the money part of it.
It’s still sad hearing of cuts in school art programs. I was one of the kids showing artistic ability at a young age, encouraged by a well-intentioned father to become a plumber, “something practical; go where the money is.”
That’s still good advice, but not the only advice for creating a good or fulfilling life. Having worked around construction for years, I know there are lots of creative folks enjoying work others may think is mundane or too physical in this information age.
Not long ago, in evolutionary terms, we all came from a working class. No doubt many artistic types also work in tech, science and related fields where the line between practical-useful and creative-artistic becomes blurred by demands of service or consumerism to produce marketable goods for profit. Others develop creative responses to challenging life situations, parenthood, getting by in tough times. Creativity becomes a state of mind, response to life, rather than a force harnessed to hold brushes or wield tools.
As a volunteer at Boxerwood Gardens in Lexington, Habitat for Humanity projects and Camp Shiloh, I find it’s clear the creative urge in children is still very active. It’s one thing to know how plants reproduce, something else entering into a relationship where a flower becomes part of an art project or a life to be cared for.
We’re bombarded with information, but developing relationships is often challenging and more rewarding. As society changes based on education we pass on to children, I hope the creative element isn’t discounted so we can all become math whizzes and good consumers of mass-produced goods or engineers of the best tools of warfare.
If we want a more peaceful world where less is engineered “square, flat, smooth, level, white and uniformly mass produced,” more art education would help. Cultivating fertile imaginations capable of creating this healthier, friendlier environment where moving slower, but more consciously, could become a new norm.
As science progresses in understanding, it often appears we are living in a great story, work of art or garden planet to nurture, rather than a fixed mechanical device always needing tinkering. Artist of life, still good advice in this mechanical information age we’re speeding through.
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