Play has a central roll in the work of making art. This belies the impression that serious Art is made by serious people. Many modern movies depict depressed alcoholic and drug addicted artists, writers and musicians that are often anti-social and reclusive, unable to connect and function in the real world. This may be true for the few oddities that inspire movie plots, however, there are scores and scores of us who live, love and laugh our way to art and spirit creating all along the way. We have somehow managed to do this and I think one key element in that is play. The other, less glamorous, but equally important action we take is that we work at it. I would like to suggest further that we play while we work and we work while we play and they become one action. I call it making art. But it is also the work and play of living.
“Art is not apart. It is a continuum within which all participate; we all function in art, use the skills of art, and engage in the action of artists every day. (Eric Booth)
Leonard Cohen, is an icon of Canadian music, his songs been described (by those who don’t like them) as ‘music to cut your wrists by’. Yet for those of us who love his work, it has the opposite effect. Here is a man who has experience despair and depression and has lived to sing about it and see the humour in it. His poetry/lyrics are rich with metaphors that play with our human failings and make fun of widely held notions of what we should be. I remember while working on a series of paintings called "Bottled" , about the nastiness of office politics, and I was carried by Cohen’s line “The homicidal bitchin’ that goes on in every kitchen, to determine who should serve and who should eat.” These words helped me understand that I was not alone, that what I was observing was human behavior and that as a human, I could decide whether or not to stay in the kitchen. For me homicidal bitchin’ evokes images from my past in which colleagues and ‘loved ones’ were being soundly battered with words. The truth behind the odd juxtapositions of Leonard’s works made me laugh then, and still makes me laugh today. He spoke a truth that is not often heard in a way that could be heard by others and that is Art.
Eric Booth has written a book called, “The Everyday Work of Art’. In it he quotes a definition of art as a verb: to put things together. The definitions I could find in my Webster’s dictionary did not include this archaic form and defined art as a noun, ‘the conscious use of skill and creative imagination especially in the creation of aesthetic objects.’ An Artist was defined as ‘one who professes and practices an imaginative art’. When the parts this definition are collected together it comes out like this: ‘an Artist is one who declares and admits openly and freely and performs or works at repeatedly, an activity that requires the act or power of forming a mental image of something not present to the senses or never before wholly perceived in reality.’ (Sounds like a mighty suspicious character to me, someone we should definitely watch out for. Professing and admitting and declaring…) Yet it does, in a convoluted way, identify what artists do. Artists use what they know and what they intuit about the world, to create something new, it becomes ‘present to the senses’ only after it has been created. In fact it requires a leap of faith. Faith on many levels; in the value of the exploration, in what is being attempted, in the act of art making and faith in the importance of having a voice and a means to express it.
Corita Kent in her book ‘Learning by Heart’ defines art - ‘to create,’ as to put together’, which is very similar to Booth’s verb for art. Webster’s first definition of 'create' is ‘to bring into existence’, with the example of ‘God created the heaven and the earth’. Perhaps this is why artists are often seen as arrogant and some of us are reluctant to call ourselves artists? We don’t want to be accused of claiming god-like status? Yet, if we are created in the image of God, then why not make it our aim to create something of value; new connections; new knowledge; and thus nudge into existence new ways of being.
If you have the joy of watching a child at play you will see that they ‘bring into existence’ scenarios, drawings, dance and music from their imagination all the time. It happens naturally and is part of our human heritage. Part of the work we are here to do.
Joanne Thomson is a full time visual artists living in Victoria BC. You can find our more about Joanne at http://www.joannethomson.com