Different Approaches To Art-Making: The Cultural Influence We Fail To Notice

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Where does this idea of “making a name for oneself” come from? I’ve written before about Beethoven creating music that would roll through the ages. From time to time we routinely hear the expression “he had a massive ego” as if this were the key to a writer or artist’ s “greatness.” I’m thinking of Hemingway here because I recently finished reading a book about the break-up of his friendship with John Dos Passos as a result of events that occurred during the Spanish Civil War.

As a young art student I myself wanted to be the next Picasso. I didn’t want to follow others, I wanted to make my own ripples, like a stone hitting the surface of a pond. But how do such ambitions square with the virtue of humility. And where do these notions come from that propel people to feel they must make “great art” and write “great books.”

These thoughts were pressing on my mind as I reflected on several strands of thought that merged this past few days. The first notion came from a statement by Alan Greenspan who once proposed that anyone who strongly desires to be president of the United States should be be automatically disqualified. (How ironic that I read that on the eve of of the GOP debates preceding the last presidential election.)

Combine this with two talks that I heard this past year at the Tweed Museum of Art. In Broc Allen’s talk, titled East Meets West, he discussed a totally different approach to making beautiful objects in which the goal is perfection for its own sake, not for the sake of making a name for the artist. In my blog post on this talk I wrote, “It made me think of the superficiality of our American quest for celebrity or fame.”

Previous to this artist and critic Ann Klefstad had given a lecture called Double Vision that made similar observations, and questioned our current double standards as regard what should be called art, highlighting Native American items that exhibit craftsmanship, beauty and skill but have often been placed in the anthropology sections of museums rather than being appreciated for their artistic merits.

What are our motives for what we create? I find myself challenged. Are we making art for its own sake or making art to make a name for oneself? When creating something are we aiming for perfection or self-expression, or both?

I remember a story about a couple who created some kind of craft objects that sold so well they built a business around it. At one point they had 400 employees, and I wondered whether this mass production could be considered art? Perhaps there’s a sense in which it could be if it were done in that spirit, but my guess is that most were doing the work to get paid, and it had become a job. Were they paid more when they met quotas? Or were they rewarded for the spirit with which they did the work?

Our culture influences us in ways we fail to notice because we’re so immersed in it. Mass production and speed seem at odds with writing poetry or painting a landscape. In what other ways does our culture shape us that we’re unaware of?

Just sowing a few seeds.

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An avid reader who writes about arts, culture, literature & other life obsessions. @ennyman3 Look for my books on Amazon https://tinyurl.com/y3l9sfpj

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