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.