There are days when I question the value of art, as a maker. Who and what is the art really for? Does my work help make the world a better place, or am I just making images and objects because it pleases me to do so? Like storm clouds the doubts gather, clustered in their own convincing way in my mind, and pointing onward to other more pressing things. The laundry for instance.
Wait a minute… wait a minute! Keeping my family clean and clothed will happen, as I know it must. By regular attention to the dirty clothes pile, I keep the household running. Regular attention to my artwork, on the other hand, does something else altogether. The art-making opens doors and windows inside me– like an airing out– and as I cultivate it, the art itself can move beyond personal meaning.
This past week I was given an amazing gift–the time and space to ponder these questions, and those of art and spirit with a group of mindful, talented women– in perhaps my favorite place on earth, Northern New Mexico.
As a participant in a retreat focusing on Art and Spirituality, I was asked to bring poems that had significance for me, and original artwork to share with the group. Before the trip I collected a number of items to carry with me, not knowing which ones would be pertinent when I arrived. One poem I found in the Wendell Berry collection, Sabbaths. It begins this way:
“Who makes a clearing makes a work of art,
The true world’s Sabbath trees in festival
And upon reading the rest of the poem, over and over, layers of meaning circled out from it, overlapping with my own thoughts as to what kinds of clearings exist in my world. The empty laundry baskets and the planted garden beds, the organized art supplies and cleared work tables… clearings all.
…The field is made by hand and eye,
By daily work, by hope outreaching wrong…
Our first exercise in looking at art together was to take an image we were given, and then choose two more from a selection of other images (mostly in postcard form); one image to affirm or expand on the first, and another to contrast it. Van Gogh’s early painting, “A Pair of Shoes,” was handed to me and I went from there.
my sketchy notes on the three:
And in the act of grouping, comparing, and relating these three pictures to each other, I realized that a strength existed there. Individually the pieces had the power to move me, and together they began to tell a story– of work and play, innocence and experience, of immediacy and the future, of seeing into and beyond.
This was only the first in a series of exercises, but it prompted the question :
What might the images I make mean, to someone who gazes upon them? If I don’t make any art pieces, I will never know. Why make art?
I’m still finding out.
…May light, the great Life, broken, make its way
Along the stemmy footholds of the ant.
Bewildered in our timely dwelling place,
Where we arrive by work, we stay by grace.”