Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Desperately Seeking Transcendance

Not knowing the boundaries between public art vs. private art, self-expression vs. art for public consumption, has created unfortunate rifts between the artist and the non-artist, and the artist and the church—rifts not easily bridged. The artist seeks expression, venue, acceptance; the non-artist is avoiding a rant, propaganda, manipulation. Lines are blurred between pursuing craft and pursuing the heart, as if this were an “either/or” and not a “both/and” situation.

In my first few art classes, I learned no techniques, but was encouraged to simply ‘express myself.’ For someone who didn’t know where to point the pencil, I was intimidated; putting that first mark on paper, whatever paper, and not knowing the least thing about composition, I wondered, how does one express oneself? I craved guidance, eventually dropping out of all classes. (I found my answers through some books.)

In poetry workshops, I noticed how high the drop-out rate was as soon as we moved from expression to craft. Not many wanted to meter a poem, or have it critiqued; they simply wanted to ‘express’ themselves. Now I love poetry, but I do not enjoy the Hallmark card variety, the self-expression that is often a soapbox, or propaganda poetry. I get bored when people rant, whether at the dinner table or in a poem. Dont' you?

Those I talk with who hate art and the art world are usually reacting to the imposition of the rant, egoism and manipulation, the normal reactions of any human being to such tactics.

Others disengage with a passive, polite and tepid, “To each his own. Art is a matter of taste.”

Well, yes and no. There are criteria.

I know many who wouldn’t dream of sharing what’s in their art journals; others want their expressions hung in a museum, though no skill was involved in producing them.

Propaganda has its place, as does self expression--a critical place in fact. But aren’t we all satiated with pop culture and self-expression? Don’t we all crave transcendent work?

To get there, excellence in craft is as vital as self-expression. I want both fine art and expressive art, believe both are vital, and know there is place for each in this wide world. Fine art is judged by its technical skill as well as its expression. Expressive art, if it is “judged” at all, is certainly not on its technical skill, but valued for its process in healing the human heart.

The drill is “Show, don’t tell.” Knowing when to blast and when to suggest is key to successful poetry or art. My vote is for discretion, discrimination, critique, and humility.

Rant over :)

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