The Laws of Nature

Sunday, November 7, 2010

An Ecology of Art

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

Chapter 9: An Ecology of Art
Image: sculpture by Andy Goldsworthy

The title to this chapter confused me at first because my understanding of the word “ecology” is a scientific study of the relationship of living organism to each other and their surroundings. But, as Orland unwrapped his concept throughout the chapter it began to make perfect sense. He writes:

Now it must count for something that as a species we’ve been able to grasp the significance of such interconnections within the natural world. But where is our understanding or empathy for such connections in the cultural world – or by extension, the art world? As artists today we find ourselves in the same straits as other endangered species, surviving – when we do – at the margins of our ecosystem. Today neither art nor artist is offered a meaningful role in our culture, and while there’s no shortage of political and economic rationalizations for this, it makes no sense whatsoever in an evolutionary sense. Viewed in broad terms, art is an expression of human nature, and human nature is at least partly a product of natural selection. .. The traits we associate with artmaking arise from evolutionary sources – and suppressing those traits carries evolutionary consequences.”

Although I agree with part of this logic, I cannot agree that artists are an endangered species because there’s a universal support for the arts. For instance, musicians and filmmakers have an enormous following and have grown into multi-billion dollar industries. I don’t know a single person who doesn’t listen to music in one form or another or who hasn’t seen at least one movie. Artists have a voice in the political arena and are awarded presidential medals in this country and knighthood in England. Local, state, and federal governments provide financial support in the form of grants to artists every year. Worldwide, the fine arts (painting and sculpture) are housed in expensive and well-attended museums and galleries. Last year I gladly stood in line for over an hour just to pay the $18 admission fee into the Guggenheim Museum. That queue was much longer by the time I left the museum. So, I disagree with Orland that artists are an endangered species. Instead, I propose that the species called “artist” has become overpopulated in its niche. Breeding new artists is easy, but finding support for all them is not. After all, our resources are finite.

This is a somewhat depressing thought, but it also makes me all the more determined to make a place for myself. I’m not the sort of person who responds well to the suggestion that I cannot do something. I like the challenge and if I fail I can at least say that I tried.

What are your thoughts?


Gary Keimig said...

Being an old biologist myself I find the term interesting but I see where the concept comes from. I like your take on it though. As long as there are folks like me who have such a burning desire of creating[in our case the arts]there will always be artists. Yes. Support can be a problem but that desire from the heart will always trump the financial reimbursements

tess stieben said...

Its an interesting topic. Now on the side of the real world it seems that the arts are the first thing cut in school budgets, so in line with that art appreciation is devalued. Yes there are those of us who continually create due some quirk of nature that drives us, yet on the whole I see arts being divided from society, i.e. having to pay $18.00 a pop to view art in a public museum puts art appreciation into the hands of those who have $18.00 to spare.

When I was a student I was lucky to have an Elder gift me tickets to the Glenbow museum which enabled me to supplement my studies of far eastern art and african art. The museum enhanced my learning but at that time fees were $12.00 per visit, which amount could buy a bag of brown rice for a hungry art student.

You mention film and music being well and alive as a huge industry. Music is attainable to the masses as is film. Museums here are not quite so well attended and visual artists are not as visible as musicians.

A few years back I was asked to paint a chair for a fundraiser donation for an arts venue, plus donate a etching, which I gladly did. I was told a dinner was included for the artists only to find out later that the discounted rate for artists to attend was a mere measly sum of $100.00, ouch!

Here in Canada we hear that Art funds are continually being slashed, even though research shows that academically students involved in arts do better than those not given the benefit of artistic expression. So in line with the statement "traits we associate with artmaking arise from evolutionary sources – and suppressing those traits carries evolutionary consequences.” gives food for thought. Is the intelligence of the masses being suppressed by removing arts from school curriculums?

Craftsman-ship in the arts needs re-affirming.
We need people to create, for its in the creating that one come to appreciation of others works.
Sorry for rambling, hugs!

hw (hallie) farber said...

For some reason, this brought to mind squirrels--who seem to have no purpose and most aren't endangered. They bury those nuts and don't remember the location--another squirrel finds them. Maybe artists leave things for other artists--it's meaningful for our species.

Linda Roth said...

Our beautifully renovated, by a top notch architect, museum is struggling for survival. A Van Gogh walked out the doors a few weeks back, because security had been drastically cut! I'm among the partially employed in this country, and yet I intend to pay my membership dues, which were raised twenty five percent. I tip live restaurant musicians ten dollars. "Outrageous," my friends say. But I support art and artists. Without the arts, life is shoulder to the grindstone--Joe and The Volcano gray--totally colorless and unacceptable.

Our kind--the kind who can't resist drawing on the top of a piece of cheese cake or shaping the meatloaf into an image of an African warrior to the delight of our children will always be. Art is in the blood.

My high school teachers told my mom, "She's a dreamer." And I am. They were not paying me a compliment. And I intend to hold on to my ornery ways. Dreaming is the stuff of Everyday Joys, my only label on my art blog.

Mark Sheeky said...

Your arguments are spot on Kathy. f neolithic artists managed to survive then we will too. I plan on it although my genes might just die with me. Ironically, my art will outlive them!

The UK budget for Culture, Media and Sport is now £1 billion, cut from £5 billion. That is not progress. Art defines civilisation. Grr.

Celeste Bergin said...

lol! hwfarber's comment is too much! lol--yes, I think other artists may just be leaving nuts for the rest of us and visa versa. That makes about the most sense.

Unknown said...

Hi Gary - it is fortunate that many of us (especially in this country) are able to fulfill our passion to create art. Unfortunately, this is too much of a luxury for so many in this world that are either too impoverished or whose creative urges are repressed by political or societal entities. Freedom is hard won.

Hi Teresa - it's true in this country, too. The arts suffer budget cuts in a big way when the general economy suffers. Oh well...

Hi Hallie - what a great way to look at it!! Thank you.

Hi L.W. - we have this in common! I was constantly called out for daydreaming in school. I think John Lennon had it right when he wrote "you may say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one."

Hi Mark - ouch! That's a severe cut in their budget.

Hi Celeste - Hallie has a great way of seeing things!