Monday, December 5, 2011

Invisible Art

I met a student who I would say is happy to be alive; she finds art everywhere: she elevates scuffs and touch-up paint on buildings to drawings, and debris to assemblage. Only slightly am I exaggerating for effect, but the impulse is true. And as artists, I believe we all experience this extraordinary eye, if not constantly, then close enough. Our visions and creations can make us happy, even ecstatic at times.

What is this impulse? A desire, or perhaps a compulsion to see deeply: not only to see but to perceive and to understand beauty. Someone came into my studio and saw the vinyl tablecloths I use to protect my work surfaces: the cloths are covered with streaks, smears, blotches, and swaths of acrylic ink. "You should cut those up and frame them or use them for book covers!" he said. I shrugged at the time, but I understand what he saw. Because my studio and my ink-covered tablecloths are familiar to me, they are ordinary. But to fresh eyes, they were fresh art.

This kind of heightened vision comes to light in Italo Calvino's Invisible Cities as a fictional Marco Polo tells a fictional Kublai Khan about his travels to various cities, really all the same, really all Venice. Yet as he describes the city from different angles, dreamlike and fantastic (with allusions to Dante's Inferno), we can't be sure each is not a different city. I think we can apply these ways of living to how we might want to perceive art in daily life.
There are two ways to escape suffering…The first is easy for many: accept the inferno and become such a part of it that you can no longer see it. The second is risky and demands constant vigilance and apprehension: seek and learn to recognize who and what, in the midst of the inferno, are not inferno, then make them endure, give them space (165).
We want to seek out art and make it endure. On which level, or part of the continuum shall it exist? How shall we spotlight the ordinary and make it extraordinary? Do we just hold it up for show-and-tell or do we transform it? If we transform it, how much work do we do? We can find an object and put it on a pedestal, give it space just as it is, because it delights us. We can put it in a frame or alter it slightly. We can use it alongside other materials and/or completely transform it. The most obvious examples come from found objects: the painted tablecloth may appear beautiful as is. I could cut out a square piece and frame it; here, I have done no real work except metaphorically to shine a light on it. I could use it as a book cover; in this case my work is to choose its new form and perhaps add content. A third layer might involve cutting it into pieces and stitching it together again like a quilt; my work then would involve the light, the choice, the form, and a complete transformation.

Or we can step back completely and take a photograph. And then the photograph itself becomes the art—the object transient, no longer needed. The picture forever there, to disturb or to delight, making the invisible visible.

1 comment:

Soewn Earth said...

I like to buy 100% cotton sheets from charity shops and use them as drop cloths on my work bench they collect all the spills and drips and brush wipings and I fold and refold to make sure they are completly covered but not too thickly then it gets washed and becomes used in the making of art works.