Monday, October 17, 2011

More Notes from a Discussion About Art

Over the weekend I shared here John Heino's notes from Friday's Red Interactive Brown Bag Lunch discussion. I have a few notes of my own to pass along as well. At the end of the hour we all agreed that we'd hardly scratched the surface. Here are some statements with my own commentary added in blue.

Much of the exchange centered on the question "what is art?" Many in the group favored greater inclusiveness. "There's room for everything in art," one person said, "but I reserve the right to call something crap." This sentiment was shared by others.

Another expressed an aversion to "chaos" or "elitism", the two extreme ends of our dichotomy. "There is no absolute criteria. Everyone has something 'art' in their being."

Erika Mock shared a couple of books with the group. The Re-Enchantment of Art by Suzi Gablik was the first. The second was Daniel Pink's A Whole New Mind. I double-checked and both can be found on

Gary Reed, a local screen printer who has been making art most of his life, surprised me by saying, "I do not consider myself an artist." His creative work has impressed more than a few over the years but, he said, "I do it for myself." He was not one to lean toward the "all is art" camp. "That assemblage of chairs over there against the wall, is that art?"

This is exactly what the problem is for the post-modern art scene, because with enough rationalizing and a suitable artist statement, there very well might be an assemblage of chairs leaning in a gallery somewhere that is or has been called art. If so, then reviews will have been written in art publications, and the public might be called to view those chairs in a different light.

John Heino, moderating the discussion, shared his own story with regards to these issues. Heino had been an art student at the University of MN, Duluth, and completed an art minor. His career has been in the business realm at the executive level for more than two decades. Many times, he noted, he has been in business meetings where rigid perspectives could have been softened or even been illuminated by a more intuitive approach to the problem. Creative thinking has benefits that can't entirely be quantified.

He went on to say, "I am personally disappointed with what has happened these last 25 years in the schools. Art is a lower priority than it used to to and that's a bad thing."

He shared a lesson he learned from a photography professor. When he was a student he'd imagined himself as an Ansel Adams taking spectacular images. But it dawned on him that the spectacular scenes in the Rockies were not something he was going to happen upon here in Northern Minnesota. Would he have to travel to exotic locations to get the pictures he wanted? His professor said he was focused too much on what was outside the camera, on the scenery. The advice he was given was, "Don't take the picture. Let it take you."

John found this liberating. Suddenly there were all kinds of images because he was no longer locked in to a predetermined mindset as to what he was looking for. Years later, in business, he found this very same problem occurring. People came to meetings with predetermined objectives, and they don't listen to one another.

How do we elevate the importance of art? Benefits include helping young people better understand the creative process. Flow, non-language based communication and thinking outside our typical paradigms are all things with value. Understanding symbolism, intuition and unlocking invisible worlds... By means of the arts and the encouragement of creative expression, we have an opportunity to engage our young people and better prepare them for life.

Just sowing a seed. In the meantime... embrace the day.

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