Recently, somewhere between scotch at a party and sake with friends over dinner, I glanced through an article about art in the newest edition of Trend Magazine. Part of the article talked about Bruce Nauman and how he had decided that since he is an artist, everything he does is art. It didn’t hit me until this morning when, moving metal around on the floor again, I realized that I didn’t care about the piece I was been working on. It’s just another piece. I have been filling an order, acting like a factory worker, doing my job.
As my indifference filled me with the desire to be anywhere but here, I wondered if the sculpture is still art even if I don’t care about it. Is it art when I leave my studio and hit my computer to wrestle with this question in words? Is it art if I do nothing at all? The profundity of his statement garnered a new respect in me for Nauman. The questions it demands require something deeper than the mere meaning of any individual work. It drives at the heart of what we do and why we do it.
We all wrestle with the definition of art. I have spent more than a few late night hours ranting into cyber space about what I think, or had thought, art is. I am quick to reduce something to drivel if
its purpose is, at first glance, less than noble or lofty. I am seldom interested in works that confuse or have no point. I look for things that move me and little does.
Consequently, my gut instinct is to shut the door on these questions. It’s ridiculous, really, to postulate that since I am an artist, everything I do must be art. That’s like stating that since I am a doctor, everything I do must be healing. And yet there is some whispering of truth, a possibility, even a hope that art is more than object, more than something that just happens, more than the raw emotive or intellectual expression of individual experience.
It’s ironic. Just as I am celebrating the fact that craftsmanship is “in” again and artists who actually make their work are in vogue, I am suddenly consumed with something that has nothing to do with what I make and that may, over time, reveal the fact that what I make is less relevant than my intention.
Obviously, our work informs us. As we progress in thought and emotion, honing the skills of our expression through the day in and day out of the studio, what we make evolves and so does the sophistication of our minds and hearts. The two – what I make and what I think – are necessarily related. They are symbiotic. Still, after almost 20 years in the studio, I am absolutely baffled by the possibility that art is not defined by the form or the design, or even the honesty with which I examine myself and my world and that it is, instead, inherent in the doing of it. What Nauman suggests to me is that it doesn’t really matter what I make or what media I choose at any given moment. What matters are my intention and my process. The object is only the expression of the art. It isn’t the art itself.
The question, “If I don’t care about it, is it still art?” seems to be answered not by the object I am creating but by determining whether or not I am engaged or fully present in the creation of it — questioning, looking, probing at the weak spots, breathing it in – until something forms, pushes back, and demands a voice. This morning, the art wasn’t the sculpture. It was the act of sculpting coupled with a fragment of thought and the desire to be anywhere else but where I was. The art then is the action. The expression, this time, is the blog.