The Laws of Nature

Monday, October 4, 2010

The Art of Gum-Ball Machines, and Other Simple Pleasures

The Accidental Masterpiece: On the Art of Life and Vice Versa By Michael Kimmelman (2005)
Painting by Wayne Thiebauld

Chapter 10: The Art of Gum-Ball Machines, and Other Simple Pleasures

This is the final chapter in Kimmelman’s book and a good summary of the artist’s nature. He begins by contrasting the typical “harried existence” of most people which keeps them from truly seeing what’s in front of them to the existence of the artists who patiently observe and consider the world around them. For instance, Wayne Thiebaud’s paintings of ordinary things, like a gumball machine, or Vincent VanGogh’s gorgeous renderings of the everyday objects and settings. There are a myriad of examples – more than I can name – of art that elevates the ordinary to the extraordinary. This is the role of the artist. Our heightened awareness and meaningful interpretations of the world as we know it serve to show others the beauty and wonder of their world as well.

Ellsworth Kelly, famous for his focus on the little details of the everyday world “tells us that the world is full of small miracles … these miracles are accessible to all of us, at almost any time, if we are just prepared to look for them." And, Marcel Proust said, “Great painters initiate us into a knowledge and love of the external world.” I think that great artists initiate us into a knowledge and love of who we are as humans – our “selves.”

What’s interesting to me is the different way in which artists express themselves: abstraction, realism, impressionism, Dadaism, “you name it”-ism. Our expressions of our perceptions take on a wide variety of forms when we commit them to a work of art. Thiebauld interprets a gumball machine one way and another artist would interpret it differently. Through our expressions, we show the rest of the world another way of seeing life. Thankfully, each artists perceives and expresses in a different way. That difference is critical to producing masterful art and is why I strongly object to art instructors who insist that students, for instance, paint a rose “this way” or a chair “that way” or a landscape using only “these colors,” etc. They behave as though there’s only one specific way to express what we see in our paintings. This serves only to suppress the mind and voice of the artist and I’m strongly opposed to it.

As Kimmelman writes “every great painter is great by his or her own terms.” We are all unique, and we should be. Vive la difference!! He writes of the Parisian artist, Chardin, who found “art in cups and saucers and in the streets, too." I disagree. I think we find art in ourselves. It is we artists who transform the ordinary into something more. This is where the "accidental masterpiece" originates.

What are your thoughts?


Casey Klahn said...

Yeah, this chapter/post does tie up the subject "accidental mp" very well. What I have heard described as artistic seeing. WT is a great illustration of that. And he kept his ideas focused - he didn't want to be just pop art, but to explore something meaningful or of a certain aesthetic.

Finding that artistic eye, and just plain time, is the same challenge now as it was in 1950, I reckon. Focus. Perceive. Draw!

Well, maybe not as simple as that!

Casey Klahn said...

Of course, Thiebauld is still working - didn't mean to past tense him. Just thinking about when he formed his ouvre, I guess.

Anonymous said...

As you wrap up discussion of this book Kathy, it makes me realize I gained so much from reading the book.
I found the book to be obscure and difficult to read, but the ideas inside are worth the effort.
Thank you for bringing this one to us!

hw (hallie) farber said...

I read this someplace: Art consists of seeing what everyone else has seen but thinking what no one else has thought.

It's so nice of you to read and pass along the information. We learn.

Jean Spitzer said...

I have to think about this more; keep on writing and erasing.

Dan Kent said...

I don't know whether the object I view is the source (as the beauty is there, even in what some might perceive as ordinary or even ugly) or whether it is me, as artist. I only know that often now, since I opened the floodgates to the creative being I so long suppressed, I stop and hold my breath when I see that particular something or someone and imagine it as a composition for art. If only I could make art on the spot with every such sight! Art has become life, and life has become art. And all I can do is sigh.

[There. I said "I" 9 times (10 counting this one) - are artists an egotistical lot, or is it just me? lol.]

Anonymous said...

Hi Katharine,
I think your last two sentences say it best! The art lies within.

I enjoy reading the comments; so much to think about. Now I'll go focus, perceive and draw!

Celeste Bergin said...

a great synopsis--it gives me lots to think about. We are all engaged in being where we are when we are and everything is as it should be. Thanks for the always you get everyone thinking.

Unknown said...

Hi Casey - you raise an interesting point: the challenge for the artist hasn't changed over time. We all have to be explorers, inventors, imagineers. No one else can do it for us. I like your summary. Thanks!

Hi Pam - sometimes I have to read a text several times before I "see the light!" I did struggle a little with this book trying to tie into the chapter themes the tangential stories that Kimmelman included. It took some doing.

Hi Hallie - what a great definition! I'll write that in my notebook. Thanks!

Hi Jean - I'm looking forward to your thoughts!

Hi Dan - you make me smile. "I" know what you mean :-) Although an argument could be made against my opinion, I still believe that an object is an object and the artist is the one who transforms it - makes it into something else. Thus, "art" is in us and not the object.

Hi Peggy - yes, Casey gave us good advice! I always enjoy your drawings/paintings.

Hi Celeste - you're welcome!