Saturday, October 10, 2009

Art is in the Eyes of the Beholder

Art is in the Eyes of the Beholder

I work with psychotherapy clients around artistic blocks, self-esteem as a creative artist, issues of self-definition. At what point can you consider yourself an artist, a writer, a playwright, a photographer? Is it external acclaims—a gallery showing, a publishing contract, an opening night, or is it a state of mind? Who gets to say when we’re “there”? And who gets to decide what art IS anyway?

I remember walking through the University Art Museum in Berkeley years ago after the installation of an abstract art exhibit. I stood on the ramp, a few yards away from the largest piece so I could observe the reactions that others were having. Actually, I was looking for validation for my judgments. THIS is art? I wondered. A huge canvas painted black filled most of one wall. Dead center was a round dot of red. Yup, that was it.

“How inspired,” a young artsy woman in a beret said to her colorfully clad friend. “Have you ever seen anything like it?” No, I thought.

“What the…” a professor type pushing a toddler in a stroller muttered, shaking his head has he passed by. Score one for my side, I thought.

I stood for maybe half an hour watching people related to it or not, loved it or hated it; there were no neutral comments. The piece was just a piece. It didn’t get better or worse depending on who was viewing it. It just was. It didn’t suddenly become art. It stirred emotion, speculation, associations, and judgments. That’s what the creative process does.

Extrapolating from that, sometimes you don’t even need a canvas, photograph, sculpture, or book to inspire the creative eye. I was having lunch at a new sushi place with two friends last Sunday. Not only was the food good, the service quick, and the price reasonable, my friend said she also liked the art. She was looking at a blank wall with four holes where once upon a time a picture surely resided. I chuckled, remembering the art museum thing.

We’d been talking about friendships, acquaintanceships, time management, busy lives, only so much energy to go around to so many worthy people and things. I was talking about how I’d let a friendship with a former colleague drift because trying to fit one more thing in was just too overwhelming. Eventually I stopped returning e-mails and phone calls.

“Sort of like the art,” my other friend said, nodding again at the blank wall. “That’s you,” she said, pointing to the largest of the four holes where a bolt once was, “and the other two are orbiting around you,” she said of the 6 penny size hole an inch or so below it, and the 4 penny size hole just below that. Down a few inches was the smallest hole where a screw had been removed.

We all three stared at the wall. “What about that last one, the one at the end of the orbit?” I asked.

“Too far away,” she commented. “That one got screwed.”

* A note about the picture at the top. I went back to the restaurant today to photograph the wall with the holes. No holes. In its place was the arrangement in the photo above. Nice, but it didn’t inspire depthy conversation.

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