The Laws of Nature

Friday, October 15, 2010

Art & Society

The View from the Studio Door: How Artists Find Their Way in an Uncertain World
By Ted Orland (2006)

Chapter 3: Art & Society, Part 1

Folks, I hope you had the opportunity to read the responses to yesterday’s post. They’re gems. Personally, I agree with Don’s eloquently stated viewpoint and hope you’ll read it along with all the other substantive comments. Today, we’ll move on to Chapter 3.

Orland segued into this chapter by previously suggesting that society dictates which is art and which isn’t. Perhaps this doesn’t resonate with artists since we have our own mindset about it. However, if you’ve ever tried selling your work or submitting it to a museum, you already know that society’s opinion matters.

In the best of worlds, artmaking would be encouraged, its destination would be clear, and society would cultivate the relationship between artist and audience. Oh, how I long for that perfect world! The author sees three looming problems for us artists:

Art plays no clear role in our culture.
Artists have little direct contact with their audience.
Artmaking is indulged, but rarely rewarded.

Yup, those are BIG problems. He writes becoming an artist means creating your own path and in all likelihood going it alone. It means relying almost entirely on yourself in a world that’s more or less indifferent to all that you do. Art may be recognized as a noble profession, but it rarely gets mistaken for a useful occupation. Orland has his fingers on the artist’s pulse. I can relate.

Before we all get depresssed, I should mention that there is a good side to all this. Going it alone gives us the best opportunity to listen to our own inner voice so we may express it through our art. This is what gives our work authenticity. So, the isolation is often necessary for meaningful expression and innovation.

But, Orland isn’t concerned with that here. He offers us perspective by writing about the condition of the generations of artists that have gone before us. Often, they were more connected to their families and communities, and their art was more integrated into religious and social institutions. The difference, as Orland sees it, is that earlier artists spoke for the community and recent artists speak to the community in their works. That is an important difference.

But, I see another big difference. Our predecessors were fewer in number and selected by society. Without that support, they couldn’t have existed. Today, we can support ourselves financially by other means while simultaneously engaging in artmaking. And, we have more opportunities to show the rest of the world our work with fewer restrictions on the content. We’ve come a long way, baby!

And then, there’s the paradigm shift from classical art to contemporary art that declares the subject of art IS art. The author asks: How deeply can art matter if the only fitting description of its meaning and purpose is “art for art’s sake”? Thus, Orland calls upon the art community to find a higher calling for our work – spiritually, educationally, and technically. Maybe that’s how you open the door to creating art that matters in a culture that otherwise displays little interest in the issues of substance. Can this be true?

More on this chapter next time.

And now, what are your thoughts?


Mary Paquet said...

Kathy, wonderful discussions. I went back and read yesterday's comments. What a great group of artists with thoughtful perceptions.

I like your declaration that we've come a long way, baby. I like that I can say any darn thing with my art, but that is because I don't need to make a living at doing my art. Perhaps this diminishes the value of me as an artist to society, but it makes me happy. Along the way some people want to own my art, or at least view my art, so I am bringing something to a small segment of our community.

I must add that I greatly admire people who do make a living at art, while expressing themselves in their art. I guess I should ask, how do you do that?

Kathy said...

Hi Mary - Thanks so much for your great comments. You ask an interesting question about how artists support themselves with their art. It ain't easy - and there are as many answers to this question as there are artists. We can't rely on a steady income, that's for sure. So, the fat years help finance the lean years. And, I have to spend a lot more time than I want to attending to the business of art. Luckily, I won't starve or end up homeless as long as my husband is still working.

-Don said...

Kathy, thank you for the 'shout out' and the link to my blog. You are so generous.

I don't know that I have much to add to today's post except to say that I finally agree with almost everything Mr. Orland said for a change. I especially like about art being "recognized as a noble profession", but rarely getting "mistaken for a useful occupation". How succinct.


hwfarber said...

I'm following--I've read this a couple of times and have nothing to add.

Anonymous said...

Hi Kathy, I've been thinking about today's posting all day. I feel like an art novice trying to address these questions. And, yet, I have lived with art all of my life, so I should have an opinion one way or another. Maybe I like the ambiguity about meaning and contribution.

I do think art makes a difference and often in a very personal way. Sort of along the lines of what Mary was talking about, we touch other peoples lives sometimes by communicating one at a time. We create pieces that bring a moment of joy; challenge notions of truth; insight anger or outrage; touch on inner primal feelings. Art is an enriching experience that engages the senses and the mind.

My latest musing is that making art is an act of optimism, even at its most basic, defiant or angry. These days, that's a worthy contribution.

I'm still having trouble with the meaning of art idea. I love paintings, music, sculpture, dance, literature, theater that engages my mind and senses...

Maybe the next few readings will open a window into my brain and what I'm trying to articulate or understand!

Kathy said...

Hi Don - so far, this is a pretty good chapter. Thanks!

Hi Hallie - thanks for commenting! It's good to know who's reading.

Hi Peggy - I agree. I, too, have always regarded artmaking as an optimistic act. As for the definition of art, it seems that the definition remains somewhat elusive and yet I know that I'm making it. Somewhat paradoxical. Thanks for your substantive comment!

L.W.Roth, said...

Art is an optimistic act even when it's political and controversial in society--Goya, Ben Shaun, Daumier, Picasso, Edvard Munch come to mind. Art is anything the artist wants it to be. Whether it's going to sell in the market place or not is up to the public. I think that artists asking themselves the question of what is art though is not optimistic. The asking displays self doubt and lack of confidence. Art is a calling. If it's your calling, you're going to make it no matter what anybody else thinks.

Dan Kent said...

Well, I want to echo that I was greatly impressed by Don's comments yesterday. Since I couldn't comment yesterday, I want to throw my two cents in: "The sincerity of effort..The passion in its pursuit..The care in execution" Your reaction was that this would mean anyone could qualify as an artist. My reaction was exactly the opposite. This definition seemed to me to exclude much that I have seen that others define as art. Passion, sincerity and care do not define a lot of what is out there - the exceptional pieces have these qualities, I would assume.

Re today's post and your optimistic comment that we can support ourselves financially by other means while simultaneously engaging in artmaking: To me having a full-time day job is a drain on time and energy. Between that and my obligations as a parent there is very little left of me for art - it is a constant struggle. So I unfortunately cannot look at this as an advantage. On the other hand, following up on what Peggy has said, my art is an exciting rebellion, one in which I reject societal demands and reach towards my self.

I also like that we are so open in the 21st century to so many possibilities in art. I tend to think we are between movements.

Anonymous said...

I second what Dan said. Couldn't have said it better!

Kathy said...

Hi L.W. - I see your point, but wonder if seeking for the definition of "art" (which really is a fruitless endeavor) can also be a way of testing boundaries. Thanks for your comment!

Hi Dan - the argument that Orland was making about passion, etc. is that these criteria aren't exclusive to artists; a gardener could make the same claim. So, while they apply to artists they could also apply to folks in other disciplines. Oh, I well know the drain and distractions of being an artist while holding down a full-time job. I did that for awhile, and agree that it hampers artmaking. My point was that folks long ago didn't have this opportunity. They either labored in a particular area OR created art, but usually not both. And, as for women ... well, don't get me started! Thanks for sharing your insights!

Hi Pam - Thanks!

Mark Sheeky said...

Right on!