Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The Art of It

This post belongs to and was inspired by the language/place blog carnival #10: "The Heart and Soul of the Cultural Landscape", which is hosted by Sheree Mack, and is now online.

The Art of It 
an e-logue

Here's a story about art I wanted to share. Last night, we watched a History Detectives show in TV, and one thing they were trying to trace the history of was a basket that they thought had been woven by a particular Native American woman.

The woman was a member of a tribe from Northern California where they harvested reeds to make baskets. Part of the show involved a basket expert examining it to assess its origin and age, and they showed other stunning examples of the patterns used in Native American baskets - which also would be true of other crafts, that they were beautifully decorated with geometric designs and symbols.

She said that there was no word for art, not in the language of this tribe, nor in any other Native American tribe's language.

Interesting to be so (what we would call) artistic but have no word for art, and I guess no concept of art. It is just the way you do things, was my thought. Like we talked about before in regards to good work, it is not so much what you do as how you do it.


That's intriguing: a culture that doesn’t have a name for art. Last weekend, I came to talk about art with a friend, a conversation sparked by the book Spiral Jetty, where Hogan reflects on natural art (like stone arches), man-made land art, and art in general (here's more). Which made us talk about Lanzarote, this island that itself feels like a natural work of art, with its sparse but intense colors and shapes.

My friend said he sometimes feels odd about things that are labeled art, like modern sculptures that are made out of gathered garbage, or rusted metal. Or things like a piece of butter in a museum, or an empty canvas with a cut in it, but put the “art”-label on it, and people go “oooohhhh”.

On the other hand, art changes in time - art that we would describe now as artful and pleasant, like the Impressionist paintings that are sold in reprints to put up in one's living room, were heavily discussed and scandalous in the time they were created.


It is interesting, your conversation. I think a lot of people feel that way. Like what is the point? But sometimes making you feel that way is the point. Like it is a challenge to you to say I am standing in a gallery looking at a pat of butter. Can that be art? It is a disconnect between people and art, sometimes explored as an art theme.

And I think that what you said is important, too, about natural art. I imagine this being the source of the Native Americans and so many others decorating the items of everyday survival, like pots and shirts and shelters. When you look at nature, it is beautifully decorated. Obvious are the butterflies and birds and flowers. But also the arches in the desert, as you said, the shapes and shades of places, the clouds, the sound of wind and rivers, the smell of a fire.

I always see it at the beach, the incredible detail of everything. The lacy foam edges on the sheets of water sliding in, the patterns in the sand, the kinetic colors of waves in the sun. It is natural, it is what art is like. Maybe the Indians just looked around them and followed the pattern.

But there is another thing. it takes longer to make a pot when you decorate it. You could have made two plain ones maybe. Which means it was very important to them to finish it properly, by their sense of proper. As we discussed, a form of worship, a form of witness.


Art and all it can refer to - yesterday, I googled “the art of” and so many areas come up, in an unexpected sorting:

the art of title sequence
the art of war
the art of being
the art of games
the art of kissing
the art of living
the art of e-mobility
the art of trolling
the art of signs
the art of racing
the art of coding
the art of flight
the art of fire
the art of pop video
the art of computer programming
the art of self
the art of diving
the art of the Trench
the art of manliness
the art of confusion

And on and on.. some of the entries are funny or feel displaced, but I think the list reflects that there really are different approaches to do things: to do it somehow - or to do it artfully, thoughtfully, with the aim of reaching some mastership. I loved the third entry: “the art of being,” which opens this approach to the whole life. Like Zen.


It's an impressive list of arts. And I agree, the art of being. That is the central art, the fundamental art. As you have said many times, how you draw inspiration from the garden or from a walk. Yoga, the spa, the passing of seasons. Terrace time. A conversation with a loved one. It is a good concept to keep in mind.


A thought: our dialogue on art, mabye that would be interesting to put together for the language/place carnival? The question is, though: what is the heart and soul of the cultural landscape. Is it art? Or, on a larger level: language / communication? Or are both part of it? It’s interesting, that living in a cultural landscape doesn’t necessarily mean that we readily can come up with an explanation of what exactly this means.


I like your idea about using our dialogue somehow in language place. At the core of it, not just one language, but a whole continent of languages with no word for art. And in fact if you google 'no word for art' there are others listed, including Japan prior to western influence there. I think they saw it as something else, that they had a different concept of it. But it would be nice to know more about this. Ah, here, I think this expresses it well: Arts of Native America: The Art of Daily Life.


Related Links:
- Spiral Jetty & Arches - a (virtual) road / art trip (by Dorothee)
- the poetry of place - a series of water patterns (by Steve)


Laurie Kolp said...

I love the art of being. So many are always in such a hurry that they fail to just be and enjoy the moment.

I'm always aware of the art of the ocean.

Sandra Davies said...

While at the Stones of Stenness, referred to in my piece for Carnival #10, we were told that during the past summer the first evidence had been unearthed of the neolithic people who had at least used the stones, since they lived but a stone's throw away, using different coloured paint to decorate flatter stones. Which of course, opens up the whole decoration or art question, but certainly culture whichever way you look at it.

Anonymous said...

truly lovely to come across this conversation and the artwork.

for me, art asks me to reconsider.

one doesn't need to have produced an object of art (photograph, painting, sculpture, poem, story, song....) to be an artist. in the past few years as i've become more tuned to this, i have encountered many young adults struggling to find "their place". the artist within has not been allowed to be, and this struggle continues until they find that artistic outlet.

Dorothee said...

so interesting about the colored stones from the neolithic times, and the question: where does decoration end, and where does art start? how to draw that line? and does such a line really exist, or is art (in whichever form, from nature to everyday moments to classic art) rather a mirror that speaks to the own inner artist of a person?
for me, one of the qualities of art is that it induces unexpected/different angles of view, questions.