Thursday, June 30, 2011

What’s art & what’s not...

The last show in our most beautiful gallery (we have three at this university art department) was a very skillful collection of paintings, prints, and handmade books by a student who has found her solace in religion. Her experience of religion is connected with the idea of Family. In all fairness, I have to say she loves children, and is capable of relating to them, catering to them, and portraying them. Some of her artworks are adequate portraits of children, done from photographs.
Many of her handmade books are full of photographs of herself and extended family. Some of these are cleverly made to be contained in small, ready-made tins.
At one end of the gallery, she’d arranged two tables, covered with a tablecloth, and arrayed with containers of candies. She provided plastic bags for collecting the candies and taking them away. I admit I availed myself of chocolate kisses until they were gone. There was also a small table with paper and crayons for any children who visited. This student artist also liked decorating cakes. So there were some styrofoam cakes covered with elaborate fondant on the candy table, and three large posters of cake designs on one wall.
This is an integration of Life and Art. So much so, that the critical thinker wants to say, it’s NOT art. I cannot stop the critical thinker, and I am one. This student’s artist’s statement waxed rhapsodic (not RAPsodic) about the influence of her church, God, Jesus, and (yes) the art instructors in her life. It was decidedly NOT post-modern. It was as if the ART was a by-product of her life. Is that so terrible?
Because of her great skill, her consummate craftswomanship, she will graduate and proceed with her life. I am reminded now of many students whose senior shows were very abstract expressionist; everything that they should have been. And yet, some of them are still struggling in life. I don’t think this gal will be struggling. She has integrated. Her skills are in the service of her particular social subset, and she is adored and praised by her immediate associates. What could be better than that?
And yet, in relation to our department, she has gone astray. It is as if we were unable to reach her. Will she end up doing posters for her church events forever? Or portraits of the children of fellow church members? Has she no critical bone in her body? OK, she NEEDED her community. And they came through. And she then came through for them. So her work is essentially collaborative. So many things are good about this, and yet I am writing her off, intellectually and artistically. This is my fault, my bias. And the thing is, she seems so happy. And I’m not, really.

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