When I was married some 11 years ago a book was given to me by my mother called ‘Hidden Art’. This book is by Edith Schaeffer. For those who are unfamiliar with her, she is the wife of the late Christian philosopher Francis Schaeffer. Though I am not what most would consider Christian, I find a lot of good things in this book. It makes me realize I should have read it 11 years ago when it was given. But as the old adage goes “Better late than never”.
This book brings art back to the basic form, which is in the home. Before art was an easel painting, a mural, a sculpture, a fashion outfit, a rock song, a classic novel, a play, a poem or a creative movement group testing the limits of the human body, it was found in the everyday items of life we now take for granted due to mass production of the item a thousand times over. Chances are the silverware set, the furniture and the spread on your bed can be traced to another million homes all over the world. That is the way it is now. The everyday items of long ago, took longer to make and were meant to last a lifetime and beyond. So great care was taken in making the furniture, the kitchen tools etc. If you were going to have something a life time, it better me made very well and since it was going to be around for 6 or 7 decades well, it may as well look great too. Who wants to stare at something ugly for a lifetime? Art in the common place items of daily lives enriched the lives of the ancient man and continues to do so today. Hand made items have really seen a comeback since people are starting to value art more. They want something that is personal and made to last. They want something to express a part of their personality.
When you step back and look at your house and the things in it, from the color of paint to the bed sheets and from the cups in your cupboard to how we arrange food on a plate, we tailor these things because it brings us something pleasing. The books we read over and over offer us something that perhaps we ourselves can not put into words but by reading the words on the page our unsaid yearnings and desires are given a voice. Music and poetry is the same way. Even classical music with it’s lack of verse and chorus can explore and communicate love, anger, hurt and celebration. Art inspires and encourages us; it makes life beautiful and worth living.
Today, in the burst of commercialized arts and the quest for immortality through them (i.e. American Idol, So You Think You can Dance, Hell’s kitchen etc), we have put art and artists on a pedestal while we lowly subjects look up straining to glimpse the greatness of the new “Top” artist or art. Todays “instant” culture forgets about our own skills, citing that we have not the talent for music, drawing,writing etc and so forth. Yet we do not try and our perception of art is warped. The perception is if we can not turn out Mona Lisa’s or if we can not sing like Ella Fitzgerald than its not worth the investment. We are not all meant to be Picasso’s and Raphael’s (personal favorites) nor are we all to be Kerouac’s or Nabokov’s and for that matter we can’t all sing or move like James Brown. This having been said, I do believe we can still create to enhance our personal lives and the lives we come into contact with. Creating for some is simply sitting down and educating ones self on the how to’s of a paticular art and to others it is getting your hands dirty so to speak. I did not think I could draw at all until I picked up two books about 5 years ago that told me otherwise, They are “Drawing on the right side of the brain” by Betty Edwards and “Drawing the Human Figure” by Arthur Zaidenberg.
In Drawing the Human Figure Zaidenberg talks about how anybody can draw and he goes on to express his frustration when he hears people say they can’t.
“The expression “I can’t draw a single straight line,” repeated ad nauseum to the art teacher by countless people who then go on to say that they would love to express themselves with a pencil or brush is typical of the lazy, unenthusiastic way which most people approach any problem even though they vaguely wish to solve that problem. To be literal about it, no one can draw a straight line, freehand. An artist is never called upon to draw a straight line in drawing humans or anything else in nature. There is a curious absence of straight lines in nature. On the contrary nature seems to abhor straight lines and the subtle curves of every natural object are a challenge to the artist, they are so beautiful and emotional. So you see that if you cannot draw a straight line you have the prerequisite of an artist, the ability to draw curves.”
When I read the above, at this point in my life I was trying a lot of new things. I had moved away from my New Orleans which had been home for 11 years and I was past the terrible two’s with my daughter and sailing somewhat easily into the 4th year and realizing I needed to invest in me before ‘me’ disappeared. I picked up this book and between reading it and putting into practice the instructions, I was on my way. Sure I sucked but didn’t you fall when first tried to walk? Same concept. You have to re-train your mind. We are used to microwaving everything, that is, we want things instantly and so we have become extremely impatient beings. I had a bonus being married to an artist but I have my own style of art and he has his, everyone is different and you have accept your style just as you have to accept who you are in life. You can not go on in life always wishing you were like “so and so”, you will fail if you do that.
I have been able to draw and paint my way through some of the confusing issues in life and open the door to some of the creativity that was shut in. I did this just by doing what I didn’t think I could do. I have repeated this through out the years, trying my hand at several different areas of art. A few years back I wrote a local paper in South Carolina where I was living for 2 years and submitted some writing and lo and behold I wrote for a year with them, pulling out 2 cover stories and about 6 other articles. Also during this time I decided to play my guitar (s0mething i taught myself to play11 years ago) and sing out at a bar and then out at a couple house concerts, something I have never done, was scared shitless to do but did. And I am still standing. I learned to sew quilts by watching my mother sew as a child. I love sewing quilts. I started sewing them about 6 years back. They aren’t fancy or complicated, they are the most simple design you could create but I get satisfaction from creating something I see as beautiful and my home and those in it benefit from it as well.
This is the age of information. Your “how to’ book is the internet (or if you prefer something tangible than the library). That’s not to say the internet is always going to be right (obviously) but it is a good starting point for someone who is just looking to learn a little more. Who knows where learning just a little more can take you. You may find something you want to know more than “just a little” about and it could catapult you into school and on to a career.
Understand, I am not honking my own horn or saying “look how great i am” (though, yes I am proud of these things) but bringing it back to Edith Schaeffers idea, anyone can do art in some form and the richness and outlet it brings is more rewarding than gold. Especially with today’s pressures on adults and children to conform to wishy washy popular demands on clothes, music and lifestyle, it can be a lifesaver. My mind is chaotic on good days, with information, to do’s, demands and wants all fighting to be forefront. And then there are your regular life struggles involving friendship and family. For me, writing, playing and listening to music, drawing and reading (and yoga) all offer me solace from the angry storm inside my head…most days. Everyone has those days where no matter how they try to balance, they can’t. And that is OK, there is always tomorrow. Art has offered me self awareness, confidence, a new way to see the world and a road that leads to a better me mentally, physically and spiritually. Even if I didn’t put my hand to paper or sing or do any of these things myself, I think just seeing and involving the arts in my life would still make me more aware and in tune with life while doing all the things just mentioned above.
I know from evidence that taking the time to learn something new or bring something new into your life, though challenging, can be very rewarding. My grandmother went to college and graduated with a bachelors in the arts when she was in her 60’s. I think she was my first example of an artist. Though not your typical writer, musician or artist, she takes time each day to journal and play piano. Her decoration style is eclectic. As a child I found her decorations really very funny and still there are some I wonder about but it is a picture, a glimpse of who she is. When I walk into her apartment I see her personality everywhere. She is not afraid of who she is, that is what art has brought her.
So before I bore you to tears I will close. I have no brilliant closing statement. Only that I want to bring art down from that famous untouchable pedestal and back into our homes. There are obviously some who will become the great artists of their time but to not pursue an interest because you’ll never be as “great” as them is folly. Beside, how do you know until you try? Plus, art appreciation is just as important as the artist themselves, with out the appreciators the great artists of time would go unnoticed.
Without further adieu I will step off my soapbox. Below is a couple of paintings I did shortly after I started drawing and one of my quilts. There is also a painting a friend did. My house is covered with paintings that friends have done, many of them are not “painters”. They do however enjoy the process and what it does for them. There is also a picture of a wall in my house. It brings me happiness to see it on a daily. Each of these projects taught me something about myself and I had fun doing them. My next post will involve pictures of things that inspire me in life and in art.