It all started with a tag, upon which was typed, a title.
About a month ago, my aunt and I visited various artist studios as part of HopArts, an open house festival day. One artist’s bio captured my attention because of his whimsical, surrealistic images. I thought it would be a fun spot to scope out for my children. My aunt and I didn’t need the kids to enjoy Rick Devin’s studio. The bold, comical animals leapt off the canvases. His fabric sculptures oozed character. And then we noticed the titles of the pieces. We made a second pass of each piece, pointing out the titles, and laughing once more and more heartily. My aunt asked Devin whether he created the titles or the pieces first. He said it worked both ways. The depth of humor each title added struck me, but I don’t think I knew exactly why.
Then, this past weekend, I took my two oldest girls to Charlestown Gallery. My seven year-old is working on a painting badge for Girl Scouts and was scheduled to visit and talk to the curator/artists at the gallery. I brought my nine year-old along because she is blossoming with artistic talent and enthusiasm. I may have had as much, if not more, fun as they did.
I don’t know why I sometimes separate the visual and written arts. The creative process is much the same, only presented in a different medium. Each piece there was making a statement, telling a story, looking to evoke a feeling. And each was so varied – from artist to artist, even from work to work within one artist’s body. It wasn’t simply an image etched into being, any more than a story is words written on a page.
My girls and I talked about what some of the pieces might mean, what the artist may have intended. When they each gave a different interpretation of the same piece, we discussed how what the viewer brings to the image is as important as the original intent of the artist. My mind whirled on to the reader response school of literary critique. When I peered at another painting, analyzing it as I would a piece of literature, trying to understand its meaning, I formed a vague notion – when I looked at that tag naming its title and an unexpected door opened, leading me into a richer, more detailed room.
All art is storytelling. The thought processes involved in the creative process bend and stretch the parameters of meaning; forcing the close study of the object right in front of us and how it fits into the bigger picture. Even the ‘simple’ experience of viewing the outcome of the creative process – without engaging in its creation – pays many of the same dividends. One is still engaged. Though my daughters hadn’t made the art, they made their own meaning. The hand of the artist reached through the canvas and provoked a thought process in them that made them view the world through different eyes.
The creative arts help us to interpret and synthesize our world in a way our practical, procedural lives won’t let us. The value of that can be seen no matter which way one looks at it.