I produce paintings and drawings to underpin projects defying easy categorization—hybrid undertakings thought of as everything from spirited art experiences to civic actions to humanistic events.
My philosophical approach is grounded in the belief art is a broad idea, essential to individual and cultural identity. As such, art is not marginal, but rather core to who we are.
“Art” is a slippery term. Commonly thought of as a practice running the gamut from rendering likeness (i.e. representational art) to conceptualization steeped in art theory (i.e. conceptual art), art making can be so much more—there are no clear boundaries between what is and isn’t art. Indeed, the very concept of “art” is an invention, definitions varying from culture to culture, and historical period to historical period, even person to person.
It is no wonder we’re all confused. But for the sake of understanding how I think of my activities, here are some guiding notions:
• Art is for everyone. German artist Joseph Beuys famously declared, “Everyone an Artist”; inventiveness is central to who we are. Art—in all its myriad shapes, theories, and practices—comes about from persons creatively expressing or making manifest their fundamental humanity. And everyone deserves a voice in the choir.
• Context illuminates art. Museums and galleries enshrine objects as esteemed works of art. When taken off the pedestal, removed from the spotlight, expressive actions or embodied forms change, sometimes losing standing as art. Framing and staging (which can happen any number of ways) gives art agency.
• Art is an agreement. Steve Martin once said a comedian is funny because he and audiences agree to believe he is funny; this theory perhaps explains the dated quality of so much humor—comedic icons of the past come across today as corny and flat perhaps because we did not sign the contract. Art works the same way.
• Art serves. The African mask maker doesn’t bring glory to himself—his carved forms become blurs of motion, quasi-transparent props for the communal dance; English needle workers made the Bayeux Tapestry, their identities unknown, their craft still giving today; Cathedral builders labored in anonymity, dedicated to their art, their town, their God. Art is at its best when central to social, civic, and spiritual life, and not ego.
• Art shapes space. Just as context makes art, art makes context: the Rothko Chapel sanctifying secular moments; the Arena Chapel and its Giotto frescoes inspiring hushed awe; the mysteries of Stonehenge and the Lascaux Caves, their purposes still debated but aura of majesty undisputed. Art is transformative, making the otherwise ordinary into spaces rich with transcendent power.
• Art is spiritual. Never mind paintings valued at multiple millions, bought and sold as easily as stocks and bonds, displayed as trophies of power, status, and wealth; consumer culture aside, art’s material worth is negligible. Plain and simple, art matters because it brings meaning to our lives—large, joyous, and otherworldly.