The View From the Studio Door: How Artists Find Their Way in an Uncertain World
By Ted Orland (2006)
Chapter 1: Making Sense of the World
Have you ever wondered why ours is the only species on the planet that makes art? I have, and so has Orland. Is it because we ourselves define art in a way that limits it to human endeavors, or is it that our minds and sensibilities are so uniquely different from other animals that we need to make art? I’m not talking about the elephant whose trainer puts a brush in its snout and lays out a few cans of paint and a canvas while suggesting that the beast dip and spread. Rather, it’s about why we deliberately make art and are conscious of what we’re making. Or maybe it doesn’t matter at all; we just do it. Orland attributes this to our highly distilled state of self-awareness, or consciousness.
As one neurosurgeon pessimistically noted, “If our brain were simple enough to be understood, we’d be too simple to understand it.” I don’t think I’ll lose any sleep over this.
For some reason, humans need to make art or, at least, experience it. This leads Orland to query What are we actually doing when we make art? Resolving uncertainty? Giving form to our experiences? Seeking emotional release? Declaring what we believe important? Expressing our belief system? For me, it’s all these reasons and more. I don’t question it – I just DO it.
The first half of this chapter is devoted to speculation about existential matters that are interesting, but not particularly practical or helpful. In any case, each artist sees the world a little differently. As the author points out: Perhaps art succeeds precisely because it remains ambiguous enough to allow others with wildly different mental sets to invest themselves in it. Maybe this is why art seems so dissimilar from “fact.”
Making sense of the world is an individual act. My sensibilities may be entirely dissimilar from yours, but perhaps you can understand mine anyway. My artmaking may be entirely different from yours, but perhaps you can understand it anyway. We have the capacity to do this and even enjoy it.
But while artists seem inordinately prone to bouts of uncertainty, really good artists also have strong internal compasses that send them dependably (if often intuitively) in the direction of those particular uncertainties that must attract or terrorize them. We are curious and creative beings, and that creativity, according to Orland, comes from seeing – from making sense of the world around us.
What are your thoughts?