A couple gentlemen were filming a promotional video for the Paseo Arts District, and for whatever reason, they stopped by my booth and asked me, “What is art?” They met me at the end of the show and I was already exhausted. I don’t remember exactly what I said, but I hope it went something like this:
Art is communication
..and communication is the act of transferring a thought from one brain to another. One of the most popular methods of communication is verbal speech — the act of transferring a thought from your brain to your listener’s brain by vibrating the air with your mouth. Yes, after thousands of years, human beings have somehow decided that using the part of our bodies designed for chewing food to project a precise arrangement of noises through the air is one of the most popular communication methods to implant a thought into a listener’s brain.
Let’s ignore the fact of how freaky that is and examine other methods of communication. Instead of vibrating the air, some people might get some colored pigment and apply it to a surface. Others might get pieces of metal, wood, or clay and shape it into a pattern. Personally, I use a tool to capture reflected light, then examine the recording of that light with a much more complicated mishmash of hardware and software, then send that recording to another device which meticulously sprays pigment onto a surface in order to make the viewer’s brain think of the very thing that I was looking at earlier. Artists embed intangible thoughts into tangible objects so that a viewer will experience the thought upon seeing the object.
Communication implies community, but of what?
OK, so we’re a bunch of people imparting our thoughts into inanimate objects. Everything’s hunky-dory, right? Well, look at it from the object’s point of view: From birth, its sole purpose in life is to broadcast a message to any of these “human being things” that come by and look at it. Most importantly, it’s not born in a vacuum! Somewhere deep between the lines of its imparted message is the subtext of, “make more of me!” Before too long, it has a family (more work by the same artist), and it gets its own friends and neighbors (work by fellow artists). Other species may emerge (as other artists translate the message into a different medium from which it started). It becomes quite obvious that the community isn’t just made of people — it’s made of artwork which speaks and perpetuates itself.
So, what’s the message?
It varies, but it doesn’t really matter. Sometimes the art will boldly proclaim the obvious, “Love me, I am beautiful!” Sometimes it will describe something in excruciating detail (sarcasm not required), “Hi. This is a crooked building sitting out in a field. The grass is green, the sky is blue, and the horizon is flat. So there.” Sometimes it will contain a message which cannot be described in words (which could be interpreted as an example of how clunky verbal language is), but it still contains the one attribute shared by all artwork — it is.
It is separate from us, it perpetuates itself, it is alive — and it’s our job as artists to keep it healthy and happy. The Paseo Arts District is a great place to let it play!