girl writing an art column

In my art column, DiStill Life, for Moonshine Ink this month I tackled an interesting topic: possession and pleasure in art. Spurred by the poem “Girl Writing a Letter” by William Carpenter (one of my favorite poems that I come back to every year to read), I asked three North Tahoe artists, an art student, an art therapist, and a gallery owner, their opinions of a line in the poem: “art is for pleasure, not possession.”

Since the story was confined to a page in the paper, I’m including the transcription from my interviews with Karl Schwiesow and Alice Baldwin since I couldn’t fit all their comments in. I strongly urge you to read the poem in full—it takes such imaginative leaps—and of course to read my full analysis in Moonshine Ink, on stands now and online here.

Responses from Alice Baldwin, marriage and family therapist intern at Bristlecone Psychotherapy

Regarding “art is for pleasure not possession, do you agree or disagree?

I have to say that I have never thought of this question!  As you know from the materials I gave out at the collage group, I deeply believe that art is a natural human trait.  Although in the hustle and bustle of modern life we seem to have lost touch with it, it is within all of us.  So given this belief I think that art is for pleasure, pain, memories, joy…and all aspects of human emotion and experience.  I do not think art is only for pleasure, just because this view seems to somehow diminish the great power and importance of art.  I think art is for communication, expression and experience…and pleasure is often but not always  a welcome by-product of art.

Can you explain how there’s power in creating something ugly (like we did in collage class)—something not for possession just for the sheer act of making something…

The “ugly” collage we did in the workshop turned out to be so powerful because I think it allowed for people to move past personal expectations of what the products of creativity should be.  We often think it should be beautiful and so we become stuck trying to create some kind of universal beauty. By consciously making something ugly we release ourselves from the highly subjective ideas of beauty and we get to enjoy the process itself, feeling less attached to the final product.

You use the word “art” as a verb a lot—perhaps more than you use it as a noun. Any comments about that? I think that almost speaks to the pleasure aspect.

I’m glad you noticed that…you must be a writer ;-)  Yes, I try to use the word in many different ways, in an attempt to take Art off its pedestal.  The concept of High Art, as a thing that exists only in museums and private collections can be very intimidating and limiting.  Art-making is something humans do, something they have always done.  Art critique is something much more recent and it is something that changes with the times.  I talk about “arting” a problem as a way for people to see art as a tool for understanding themselves and the human condition.  Somehow using it as a verb seems to make art more dynamic and less fixed.  Well-know expressive art therapists talk about art as simply the act of making something special.  I like this idea….I don’t want art to be high in the unreachable stratosphere, I want it to be accessible to all since it is a part of everyone.

And do you own any art? What sort of satisfaction does that give you, and what do you look for when buying art?

This question makes me smile because my house is filled with my own paintings! I spend a lot of time thinking about what art ownership means.  My first exposure to the commercial art world was attending school at Sotheby’s in London and then working at their competition auction house Christie’s in New York.  I wrestled with the fact that works I wished were in museums were in private investment collections where few people could see them.  But I also learned that there is a very beautiful and special relationship to art when we start to think about owning it (possessing it!). Collecting art is a super fun activity because we have to understand ourselves and what we like in order to select the right pieces. I grew up watching my parents buy little art pieces on their travels and we cherish the memories the pieces evoke and enjoy being surrounded by what we consider to be beautiful. Personally when I am able to buy someone’s artwork I look for what I am instinctually drawn to. When I go into a museum or gallery I scan the walls and find the pieces I like and spend time enjoying those, this way I avoid feeling like I have to stand and appreciate everything…that can be too overwhelming!

I say, if people love a piece and can afford it they are doing something great for themselves by buying art.
When I price my own work I often struggle because I believe that anyone who would like to own one of my paintings should be able to do so.  This is because I think that we benefit from being surrounded by art.  But we must value our own time and relationship to our work…so the price needs to reflect that as well.  It is a dance, finding the “value” of a piece of art, and somehow that dance feels less important than creating and living with art.

Responses from Karl Schwiesow, sculpture and ceramic artist, Sierra Nevada College student

Regarding art is for pleasure not possession, do you agree?

In some simple way art can be for pleasure. This all depends on your definition of pleasure.  As far as possession goes…People can literally just own art.  They do not necessarily own or even understand the conversation which it represents.  So, in a sense they do not actually own it.   Art for me is not about pleasure or possession.  It is about self expression.  It is about communication, it is a language.   Occasionally, art is fun to make.  This usually happens to be a coincidence and can be quickly degraded into simple work.  If a person reads more into art they begin to understand that art is not about pleasure or possession.  Also, people frequently tend to clump art and craft into one category.  This is perhaps where someone could get the notion that art is for pleasure; notions of possession could come up in that conversation as well.  This is a fairly complicated topic and up for debate.  It also tends to be quite subjective.

Do you think art should be shared in museum and gallery settings, not hidden away in private collections?

Art can be where ever it wants to be.  I don’t give a shit if someone is hiding away some cool painting somewhere.  That just gives me an opportunity to make one without having to copy someone.  Think about all the crazy shit lost over the ages;  since the Renaissance till now?  So much has to be lost or hidden; it really makes no difference to the artist.

Do you create art for yourself, others, or both?

I prefer to create for everyone and anyone. (but not everyone cares or understands)  It is usually important to make relevant and coherent choices when making art for everyone. This is really just a method in which I attempt to work, it ties into my ideas about art as a language. The problem with this is that not everyone speaks the same language and I frequently slur my slang.  On occasion my work will be for me, though usually this work is simply study. 

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