Friday, February 7, 2014

Ann Klefstad Discusses Double Vision at the Tweed

Twentieth century ideas of Western art have been tremendously exciting for artists, and have created a realm of radical freedom where almost anything can be done. Why then does so much current art seem so irrelevant to so many? As an artist I worry about this. This talk is an attempt to locate some strategies to bring art into contact with ordinary life again, to give it traction.

So began Ann Klefstad's thoughtful and thought-provoking talk at Tuesday eve's Tweevenings.

She began by setting forth a concept that very much intrigued me because it seems to be a true truth that I have perceived but never knew how to articulate, the notion that there is a canon of what is considered art and what is outside the canon.

Twentieth century Western art seemed to be largely in the service of creating visual art as a separate realm, a self-referential practice in which artists addressed ideas of art’s status (such as, what was allowed to be called art, what was legitimate). The modern and postmodern strains alike both seemed committed to ensuring that art was about art, no matter what it was made of or who was doing it. Art that wasn’t about art—that is, illustration, decorative work, traditional visual practices—tended to be shut out of the canon.

And against this backdrop, Klefstad sought to open the door once more, or rather, widen the box, or knock down the fences so that what was being called "art" could become more inclusive.

The four pieces she selected from the Tweed were Dennis White's sash, a painting by Frank Big Bear, a print by John Sims, and a carved wooden ladle with a goose-head at its tip. The title of her presentation: Double Vision, art that isn't simply self-referential (art for art's sake) or that arises from the Western traditions of art history. Nor is it art for investment sake. Rather, it is double-duty work that "performs action in the larger world."

Dennis White's finger-woven sash is exactly this kind of double-duty work, a work of art that is also worn, best displayed in conjunction with a body. This kind of art gets diminished by calling it a craft. Klefstad highlighted the features of this piece and noted how it ignores the boundary between craft and art.

White is an Ojibwe mathematician from Hayward who makes art but also teaches math. If I understand her correctly Klefstad identified what it was that has made the distinction between art and craft. Something made for intellectual purposes, that serves the mind, can be art while that which serves both the mind and body gets relegated to craft status. This ought not to be.

Dennis White brings to this array the ability and confidence to ignore these boundaries: his sash incorporates the patternmaking of mathematics, seemingly the most “intellectual” of practices, with the pure visual appeal of color and form, and with the loyalty to mind and body together of traditional craft.

The colorful picture by Native artist Frank Big Bear became Klefstad's next talking point. Frank Big Bear grew up on the White Earth reservation, then went to Minneapolis where he drove cab and raised six kids. His colorful Prismacolor drawings reflect some of the influence of Kandinsky, but his renderings of perspective transform traditional ways of seeing. Klefstad then went into detail "reading" the imagery in this magical composition.

She next addressed John Sims' drawing and print from the math and art show, a mathematical metaphor about fractals and the Golden Ratio that permeate quilt patterns and Pi, complexity and beauty. Mathematics is the ghost in the machine... or the machinery of the universe.

Klefstad then turned her attention to the spoon. Native artists have often had their work relegated to the anthropology section of the museum rather than being called art. She spoke at length about the features of this simple carved tool, a work of beauty and functionality.

In the end she stated that many artists today are striving to bring art outside art's walls to the larger community because they aware that there is a disconnect between art and the broader culture. Artists with "double vision" will help us escape the canon imposed on us of what art "should" be. This talk was her contribution toward that end.

You can read more of Ann Klefstad's ideas here.

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