I’m an artist. Yep, you heard that right. I suspect ‘artist’ isn’t your primary association with this particular primate, but I’ve decided it’s time to paint a fuller picture of what makes us human. Because we all started out as artists.
Many scientists say human nature started with art. Although they haven’t yet agreed how creativity, language & increasingly complex cognition meshed over the past 500,000 thousand years to hasten human differentiation from our ancestor primates, we do know that our (relatively) recent compulsion toward body adornment, song & dance, narrative, pattern-making, ritual, & eventually, de novo art forms was intimately interwoven with the development & success (in evolutionary terms) of human primates & human social communities.
And that’s still the case.
One of my favorite things to do artwise is collage cards in the company of other female primates. It’s social. It stretches me. I (usually) stay in the present moment, & even though firing up the glue gun is (usually) as hot as it gets, I love working with color & texture, scissors & paste. It’s therapeutic. It’s play. I can write a few words of love inside the art card & drop it in the mail to family & friends – remember that old-fashioned gesture?? & I can allow my artist alter ego to take over for a few hours – some of you may even recognize her: the beloved puppet Moon Ma created by one of my (many) incredible family-member artists, sister-in-law Paula.
Moon Ma fires up my muse & she’s in it for the fun. Ergo, my claim of ‘artist’ should not be construed as ‘working artist’. On the few occasions when I’ve really had to work at art, I could understand, for a few moments, the satisfaction of making art into work, but it doesn’t light my fire. It was admittedly satisfying to once be paid for my art (random worldbead bracelets compulsively strung during one of those early grieving holiday seasons – my friends were so sweet to come by & buy them up) & once* I was paid to solicit payment for art created by another. I’ve often & happily paid for works of art created by others & paid others for working (playing) myself at creating art.
There’s a hot community (& broader) discussion going on about what’s going on at our local Museum of Art & History. The MAH is embracing the participatory model of artistic engagement with a broad range of artforms & collaborators. I’m on the board of trustees of this fiercely experimental small city museum; when I was asked to join the board, I initially said no – my experience of this museum was reminiscent of (imho) sterile art on the wall, deadly quiet hallways, & a lackluster community presence. But I was behind the curve – under new leadership, this museum is now on the cutting edge of an international movement to bring art back to the people within whom it has too long been quiescent. I changed my mind & said ‘yes’.
A hot community debate about art?! How cool – bring it on. A few in our lovely burgh pine for the highbrow museum days. Not me. Hearing the lively music & chatter as I climb the Front Street steps, First Fridays at the MAH puts a grin on my face that seems to linger for days. I revel in the abundantly creative buzz of activity & increasing diversity of a lively & churning crowd.
This museum is helping bring out the best in our little community with its mission to ‘ignite shared experiences & unexpected connections’. Being artists together is our human primate heritage, & it’s one (fun) way we’ll survive the (somewhat scary) future.
* At the Regional Transportation Commission, we were early advocates for public art as part of rebuilding the Highway 1/Bay Avenue Interchange in Santa Cruz County. The wonderful Susana Arias & her rendering of ‘Finding Our Past’ along the freeway underpass received a California Environs Enhancement Award in 1997.
Is it no longer called the McPherson Center for Art and History? It’s been a while since I’ve seen the name used that way.
In any case, I’m growing tired of all the experts who say our kids should be tracked into the STEM subjects… Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. That’s fine for left-brain thinkers. But what about those of us who think in technicolor? What about those of us who enjoy breaking the mold and coming up with something new? What about those of us who just plain don’t like doing things according to the rules? We’re the people who discover things. And then everyone else falls in line behind us. But for some reason, we still aren’t valued. Except by each other.
it’s the santa cruz museum of art & history at the mcpherson center. the decline & now nearly complete relinquishment of art curriculum in public school elementary grades is a travesty; this is one reason why what happens at the mah (& other arts education programs) is so important.
“A few in our lovely burgh pine for the highbrow days.”
They weren’t the “highbrow” days, Linda. I was a docent at the Art Museum (when it started upstairs in the downtown Library and later after it moved to its current location) and I was most certainly not “highbrow.” I was a single low-income mom, with a young daughter, who purchased our clothes from the Goodwill…and the Art Museum was a resource that both of us enjoyed. The curated shows were a delight. The opening nights were full of fun and celebration. And yes, there was an opportunity to see the curated shows as any individual chose to do: alone or with friends…and always the opportunity to view the work at each individual’s pace and liking. A time to be alone with our thoughts about what we were seeing. This is not “highbrow.” This is a way to appreciate without being programmed by someone else. Now there are fewer and fewer opportunities to be alone with our thoughts because we are constantly bombarded by noise.
I hope that the Art Museum can accommodate all ages and all income levels without disenfranchising those of us who find art without amplification to our liking. I see daily swan songs for the elders of our community. What a shame.
jean, you can still visit the mah most days & times & enjoy the wonderful & varied exhibits in complete quiet all by yourself. while i look forward to that changing in the future (i.e., i’d love to see more people there every day), the collaborative (usually weekend) programming at the mah (& other locales, such as the tannery arts center) is reinvigorating & broadening opportunities for arts experiences in our community. for everyone.
This post reminded me of one of the books I dip into now and again… by Seth Godin called ‘The Icarus Deception’. Just a few quotes from it: “Art is what it is to be human.” … “Art is the act of a human being doing generous work, creating something for the first time, touching another person.” … “An artist is someone who uses bravery, insight, creativity, and boldness to challenge the status quo…Art isn’t a result; it’s a journey. The challenge of our time is to find a journey worthy of your heart and soul.”
thanks nancy – yes, the journey is really all we have.