Friday, September 21, 2012

Art Appreiciation 101

By Alma Lee

I am an artist. It has taken me several years to say that sentence and stop at the period.  I always had to add a qualifier. Somehow I tried to make my profession palatable to the population at large. These days I see the world of art and my place in it differently. I realized that being an artist is defined not by what we do but is simply who we are.  There is nobility in that and a certain authenticity in that that pleases me. I see artists as humans interacting deeply and intimately, with the world, out of the deep and feral need, a need rising out of circumstances within our lives. It is the literal drawing on our response to life’s circumstances. Sometimes from a place of great joy, sometimes from a place of great wounding, art becomes our only balm. Within this feral need is the source of a great gifting. And artist’s gifting lies in the ability to convey what cannot be spoken with words in conversation, or literature, a personal look into not only the thoughts and perceptions of the artist but adds another previously unseen dimension. That is the gift, and that is the job description of an artist.

Being an artist comes with great challenges also. One being a sincere homage to the divine creator of that gift. Being thankful not only the capacity, but the love and generosity of God when he entrusted me with that gift. The 2nd challenge of course is remaining true to my vision, my art, and myself and not be swayed by the popular, politically correct and socially proper definition of what is art. Lastly artists have an obligation the art's audience. An artist must be careful not to mislead patrons down a trail of folly (unless folly is the subject and purpose) and frivolity with out substance. Nor should the audience be led down a dark path without the artist shedding at least enough light to navigate the patron in the direction of enlightenment and salvation.

All of this sounds heady, self-serving I suppose. But that is only because of how we as a culture have come to devalue art. In civilizations present not long ago artists were entrusted with identifying, mapping and guiding the paths of culture, enlightenment, and in a sense prophesy. Patrons looked to the artists, poets and philosophers, for instruction, empowerment, and encouragement in the building, restoring and reforming of their lives into higher and better forms. But today some have reduced the role of art to the decoration of our homes, our rooms, our furniture, even our tissue boxes, and call that art. I would go so far as to say as a culture we have come to regard art as a nominal part of our being. We take it for granted. It has always been there. We use it as a pseudo-antidepressant. It is there for no more than our passing enjoyment. Art’s highest calling is to make our material goods pretty. Do you think I'm being harsh? Let me ask when was the last time you bought a sofa to match your favorite painting? When have you ever hung a single piece of art on your wall alone not in a grouping if for no other reason that it moves you to a place that abhors clutter? A piece of art that so spoke to your mind body and spirit that you could not bear the encroachment of a single frivolous companion?

I have been guilty myself a hedonist of pretty. Pretty is not of course opposed to art. Art is beauty; otherwise we would never even stop to look. I am of the opinion however that beauty is both the import and symptom of art, not its final destination or purpose.

We devalue our artists also. We relegate them in our minds as quirky little beings with a flair for art. We call them hobbyists, crafters just to keep them in their place should they attempt to aspire to more. We tell them how wonderful they are how we enjoy what they do. We tell them what a great fan we are of their “work”, and then ask them for a discount or a donation for our most important cause. Artists are people and people by nature will go where they are celebrated and produce their highest work in that environment. Artists are no different than CEOs, doctors, or celebrities. In fact they're no different than you, they go to work every day, whether they  “feel like it” or not. They put in long hours, have families, responsibilities both relationally and financially and they do their level best to meet all of their obligations. Isn’t that true for everyone.

I say these things not in way of complaint, or to incite sympathy, but in hopes of engendering a well deserved, long overdue, respect for art and its practitioners living among us, providing valuable and vital service to our communities ask well as our hearts. And I ask you to buy art from your local artists. Buy originals, and hang them in a place of honor. If you can't afford originals, don’t ask for unreasonable discounts; instead ask them about available print and reproductions. Support their businesses and they will support yours.


  1. I really love that you wrote many times as an artist I have felt this way. Thank you for sharing!

    Natalie Trujillo

  2. I got chills reading this....LOVE it! and, Thank you! Well said.

  3. Outstanding
    A lot of people aren't comfortable with being referred to in public as an artist. "John Doe, I would like to introduce you to Rob. He is an artist." Cringe...It's an introduction guaranteed to make me squirm. Having been exposed to other artists' thoughts on this one I know I'm not alone. In fact, I would guess I am among the majority.
    Of course, there are artists who are comfortable with the title. Maybe after having involved themselves in the arts for some time or they've just accepted the title as being inescapable. Or maybe they feel deserving of the handle. For me, the word conjures up visions of saint-like souls devoting the entirety of their lives to the practice and perfecting of their art through history. Be they painters, musicians, poets, novelists, playwrights, composers or whatever flavor their expression has evolved into; they are among an elite group that is set aside from the rest of the population throughout history. People who have proven themselves to be dedicated to their vision and pursued it as long and as far as they could. It's an exalted place in my mind. To get there the path is long, and the passage narrow.
    So when is it that a girl becomes a woman? After what trial or test? How many are there before the boy has earned the distinction of being a man? It's analogous to when has someone who makes art earned the title their heroes assert themselves with? I suspect most, even in that exalted group, never feel/felt truly at home with it. When have you earned the right to rub elbows with the divine? To break intellectual bread with the masters and meet their gaze as one who belongs?

  4. When have you earned the right to rub elbows with the divine? To break intellectual bread with the masters and meet their gaze as one who belongs?

    I agree with much of what you said about the discomfort about beind called an artist. It is a title and qualifying criteria certainly come into play. However "artist" is a TITLE not a label, and though one takes on the title with trepidation and respect a label is another matter entirely. If I must jump throgh certain hoops to wear the title "artist" as an badge of honor so be it. But should I be merely labeled "artist" to the twitters and rolling eyes of the public, I shall not hang my head in shame. Hit or miss, artists are seldom accessed in thier own life time, but like any other profession Artist is worthy of respect.

    Thanks for taking the time to comment!