Thursday 24 July 2014

Of Art and Sports

Chorus Line
photo collage

As a youngster, I had two loves: making things with my hands and being physically active. In indulging the former love, my great joys were drawing, modeling clay into fantastic forms, making articulated figurines out of paper and creating stories which I would enact for my dolls, a very appreciative audience. To indulge the latter love, I danced as often and in as many ways as I could, I swam like a fish, I bicycled everywhere I was allowed to, and I played first soccer for which goalie was my favourite position, basketball and then volleyball with a killer serve.
In studying to become a better artist while simultaneously practicing to become a better player, I was struck by the similarities between the two activities, art and sports.To create an image, I had to think about the page from edge to edge, to think of it much as I was told to think of a soccer field. When I decided where to put each detail of a drawing - in a drawing of ‘home’ for instance, say a house, a couple of trees, two dogs and my brother trying to fly a kite -  it was little different from when I studied the positions of players on the field. The better the composition of the elements in my drawing, in other words, the better the details interacted to animate the page, the better a drawing it would be, just as the better a player worked to move the ball over the field in concert with other players, the better the game. 
When I kicked a ball toward a goal during a soccer game, or bounced it off my head to deflect it course, when I scoped out another player’s position and prepared to pass or receive the ball, or when I ran across the field to intercept an opposing player and claim the ball, my thinking process was no different than when I pushed graphite and rubber along page to create lines, when I ran crayons across a shape to give it volume, or when I moved clay from hand to hand to give it form. This is what gave me the greatest joy - I felt that what I learned doing one led me to better understand and control doing the other: making art made me a better player because I played the game like I was creating a composition, and sports made me a better artist because I became more agile and had more stamina.
There were even better prizes for doing both activities at the same time. 
Making things in three dimensions with materials like clay and paper, making stories with words, making shapes and rhythms in space with my body and even making noises (hopefully music) with my voice made me feel really connected with world around me. As an individual, as a ‘me’, I could respond to what I saw, express what I felt, see the result of my actions and the manifestations of my ideas in concrete ways. And if I got to show to and in that way share these things with others, my existence was confirmed, whatever their response. I also understood that by my looking at other peoples’ creations, they  became more present for themselves and for me as well; they became part of my imaginings and ideas.
On the other hand, swimming, never alone in the ocean but on crowded beaches, bicycling with my friends and playing sports gave me a sense of communal movement not just in space, but also in time, I moved harmoniously with my friends and therefore acted collaboratively in my society. I belonged, because even if my fellows spoke other languages or lived by different codes, we covered the same territory, experienced similar sensations and played by the same rules.
That understanding led me to the conviction as an adult that thinking about and making art and thinking about and participating in sports are essential, interrelated forms of human activity, essential for human development. While they have different ends, they develop and share interconnected aspects of the mental, or conceptual, apparatus. A game is composed of a series of actions played out by a combination of fixed rules and responsive, improvised reactions on a fixed surface by opposing forces joining to create a challenging but satisfying experience. Creating a work of art is exactly the same, except instead of other players on the same team, the artist teams up with media and tools, and instead of members of an opposing team, the artist’s challengers are the problems she/he has to solve to compose a successful image.
Both these human disciplines, Art and Sports, practiced simultaneously at all ages, develop instincts, stimulate the senses, create skills and provide experiences that are essential for all other endeavours, from the simplest to the most complex. Without them, without a hands-on, problem-solving, actual, physical relationship to materials, tools, body and space, creativity becomes about reiteration, not invention, about money and profit, not about meaning and exchange, and mental flexibility gradually is replaced by single-minded dogmatism while physically, people become prone to a sedentary, non-participatory or only virtually participatory life-style. Without them, people are dulled down, reduced to their most basic functions, they are not elevated to their highest potential.

This is why I don’t believe that governments which separate pure art and sports education in schools, or that eliminate both altogether from the school curriculum are acting without malice.

Monday 7 July 2014

Art at Home

photo collage

It’s true that we have put the world in a tight spot. People have incurred too much financial or environmental debt by consuming too much and wanting more, and companies are too focused on profit at all costs, if not worldwide domination. We are obsessed with growth.It seems as if it’s difficult for us to establish equity and balance, even peace, to the detriment of…everything.
What isn’t true is that in this environment, art is a luxury. On the contrary, in this environment, art is a gift from the gods. Though it can be provocative, the exchange between art and viewer is individual; it does not rely on statistics, mass production or marketing, social media, generalizations and common denominators – it does not DEhumanize or DEstabilize. As such, living with art is the perfect rebellion against all the individuality-consuming social forces massed against us, the perfect antidote against feelings of isolation, powerlessness and resignation. It’s why the greedy and power hungry don’t like it for anyone but themselves.
That said, I have always been committed not just to making my own art, but also to showing original art by other artists. Up to now, I’ve focused on creating exhibitions with an educational mandate, underplaying sales in favour of fostering informed, responsive involvement by everyone concerned. After years of trying to bring audiences, artists and works of art together in various not-for-profit art galleries however, I’ve learned that something is increasingly absent. What’s missing is a level of intimacy essential for the connection process to happen at the deepest and most beneficial levels. 
Art needs time to reveal itself to a viewer, but as much as that, it needs to be present in a viewer’s personal, intimate environment for a real connection to occur. Seeing a work in a gallery, even if on repeated visits, the viewer remains separated from it by the space, around it, The Gallery (or Museum), and everything it represents. Ownership of the work changes that. The work hung in a personal space can have an effect on the viewer directly, by being viewed deliberately, indirectly, by the viewer’s unexpected, arresting glances on the way to doing other things, and subtly, by the ever present energy it discharges as it lives in the home.
As Director/Curator of a not-for-profit municipal gallery, I have spent too many years watching viewers walk away from artwork with only a surface understanding of what they see because the viewing experience has been mediated and temporary. While they are receptive to being delighted or titillated, curious about techniques (sometimes competitively) and eager for information, many walk away deprived of the real connection, the real pleasure the work can deliver over time to them personally, even if it is of a difficult subject or stylistically challenging.

This is why I’ve started including in my schedule of ten educational exhibitions a year one dedicated to selling the work of gallery artists. It is time that I encourage my audiences to buy such things as paintings, sculptures, and drawings to take them home, to live with them. People need to be reminded that original art made by artists, rather than being on the one hand a luxury item or an investment, and on the other less necessary than ‘practical’ things, is actually a humanizing part of any space we create for ourselves, no less necessary than windows, running water and roofs.