Friday, 5 October 2007

art - 'want' or 'need'?

Is Seasalt clothing "fashion" or "clothing" (see my last post)? What makes the difference? Does my "want"/"need" attitude play a part or is the designer/manufacturer solely responsible?

I believe that if the clothes are well made and of a style that will not look ridiculous within the item's lifetime (ridiculous because it incorporated a short-lived trend) then it is valued. And as such, is clothing. But if I had umpteen vests to choose from to wear, then their value is diminished in proportion... making them "throwaway" items and not "clothes" but "fashion".

So it's a two way responsibility. How does this fit with art production and selling? When someone buys one of my batiks is it as a "want" or as a "need"? Outwardly it would very much be as a "want", I ashamedly am sure. But if it's "well made and of a style that will not look ridiculous within the item's natural lifetime (ridiculous because it incorporated a short-lived trend) then it is valued." But if the painting was displayed in rotation with other works and spent much time in storage then its intrinsic value diminishes in proportion.

Inwardly, art - true art - touches the soul. It's a "need" just as a vest has a practical purpose (spiritual too, maybe?). If the batik is in storage or otherwise unappreciated (unneeded), then it has no higher purpose. It's a throwaway.

So... my batiks must be of the highest quality and not be faddish. They must strive to be of a nature that someone would want to keep on their wall, not grow tired of. But no, this still isn't quite right. It cannot be possible to strive for spirituality! Spirituality can only emerge from an inner stillness... as does art. This art is the art that – hopefully – will reach into a viewer's soul, will touch them on a level deeper than "that's nice" or "that's pretty" or especially "I want that!".

This makes me reconsider my thought that art needs to be regularly seen to have intrinsic value. One viewing only might be enough to uplift a person's soul... But then the work would need to be in a publicly accessible place to reach many people. So my thought about works in storage being without value holds.

I've just re-read Kandinsky's first chapter (Part I About General Aesthetic, I Introduction) in "Concerning the Spiritual in Art" and find yet again he explains what I feel so much better! So now I will spend the rest of the day pondering:

"Every work of art is the child of its age and, in many cases, the mother of our emotions."
He later describes two kinds of art. One is short-lived although also being of the moment, because it had no depth, no meaning, beyond being available for sale. Tourist art falls into this category, I think.
"Such an art can only create an artistic feeling which is already clearly felt. This art, which has no power for the future, which is only a child of the age and cannot become a mother of the future, is a barren art. She is transitory and to all intent dies the moment the atmosphere alters which nourished her.

The other art, that which is capable of educating further, springs equally from contemporary feeling, but is at the same time not only echo and mirror of it, but also has a deep and powerful prophetic strength."


isabella said...

Hi Robin.... a quick personal response here to your interesting want-or-need issue. I have to talk about scarves because that's what I make. In the West a scarf is seen as a fashion item by most people, and also a lot of galleries. Potential buyers may well think, "Does it go with...." not, "That's so beautiful - I'd love to wear it no matter what.."

From my end of things, I couldn't make my stuff if I felt that my scarves were ephemeral fashion items because I feel so all-round strongly about the "value" of textiles. That comes from stooging around Indonesia for so long. Like you, I'm sure, I've seen work that took seven years to make, or was buried with the dead, or thrown into volcanoes.

So I don't want to make work that is nothing more than decorated surface.

That said, I know that all control evaporates once work leaves me. I can only make work if I feel strongly - and spiritually - involved in it, but the buyer may sail right past my highbrow intentions and buy something because it goes with her green suit. And only wear it once. Here, we don't have volcanoes requiring regular sacrifice.

When I think about that I have to say to myself, I can't change the world, just my back yard.

I suppose there is that whole debate about art for the wall as opposed to art for functional use to be had, but I'm so tired of that one I can't begin to go around the houses with it again - and you'll be aware of all those arguments anyway.

I wish what I did had that prophetic strength in your Kandinsky quote, but I don't even get near. One just tries to be clear, informed and honest about what one's doing I suppose. These days it's even more complex with the issues of sustainability. A very complex back yard.


Robin Paris said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Robin Paris said...

Isabella, perhaps we here do have volcanoes needing regular sacrifice, it's just that society has blinded us to this need.

Our society encourages us to make work for money, and feel that an exchange of money for the "goods" is normal procedure, and what it's all about anyway. Well, sure we need to pay bills and eat, and fine to do this through art.

But - in the light of understanding that our society isn't able to live within planetary means, in equilibrium with nature, without even knowing nature - perhaps as artists working with textiles we should also devote some of our time and art towards appeasing carbon-volcanoes, consumption-volcanoes, war-without-end-volcanoes, climate-change-volcanoes and so on.

Thank you for opening my thinking to this direction.

I think you're right about scale, as individuals we can only influence (or try to) those around us, but collectively I hope we snowball!