© 2012 David's Harp and Pen
DISCLAIMERS: This blog is based, in part, upon actual events and people. Certain actions and characters have been dramatized and fictionalized, but are inspired by true events and real people. Certain other characters, events, and names used herein are entirely fictitious. Any similarity of those fictional characters or events to the name, attributes, or background of any real person, living or dead, or to any actual events is coincidental and unintentional, so I don’t want to hear from any visual artists who think I am in any way poo-pooing their craft. In fact, if you are able to support yourself from selling murals comprised of torn construction paper or taking black and white photographs of cow patties, then more power to you.
Growing up, I spent a lot of time in art galleries and art museums, most of the time against my will. Even though I come from a long line of culture aficionados, I neither appreciated nor enjoyed being dragged to the latest exhibits by family or school officials. At the time, I didn’t give it much thought. However, on a recent whim, I decided to visit The Frist Center for the Visual Arts, and the reasons behind the aversions to the visual arts of my youth became abundantly clear.
The headlining exhibit that day was Creation Story: Gees Bend Quilts and the Art of Thornton Dial. The works of Mr. Dial and the quilters of Gees Bend are classified as “vernacular art,” the definition of which is a genre of art and outdoor constructions made by untrained artists who do not recognize themselves as artists (http://www.TheFreeDictionary.Com/Vernacular+Art). A word that kept coming up in Mr. Dial’s exhibits that I’d not heard before was “bricolage.” Once again, according to The Free Dictionary, bricolage is “something made or put together using whatever materials happen to be available” (http://www.thefreedictionary.com/bricolage). The Gees Bend quilters used scraps of worn out and discarded clothing to make their quilts, whereas Thornton Dial used garbage like discarded furnishings and electronics to make his enchanting abstractions. I found myself getting lost in display after display of recycling at its finest, and how each artist took things that were jagged, ugly, and repugnant on their own, and weaved them together into something hauntingly beautiful. My mind suddenly drifted back to museum outings in times past, and the allure of this current excursion began to make sense.
I had always viewed much of the visual arts as an elaborate brand of pretending. Much of the paintings and sculptures I remember seeing as a kid were of people, places, and things that didn’t exist. As I grew up and witnessed new movements of artistic expression become popular, I would get annoyed at the things that passed for art and sold for lots of money, things that, in my eyes, required no more talent to create and weren’t any more intricate than a tic-tac-toe board. Stemming partially from the fact that, though I came from a visually artistic family, all the visually artistic genes had passed me by, it angered me to see some of the things that were called art that, in my mind, were anything but. As far as I was concerned, most of the modern art was a horrid illusion, a pretending to be something it was not on a grand scale.
My family fought a lot when I was younger. I got bullied a lot in school by the other kids and sometimes, by the teachers. On the many trips to the art museum, however, we pretended, just like the portraits and sculptures on display. We pretended we were a cultured family in which everyone got along. My classmates pretended they were quiet, well-behaved, and accepting children who treated all the other kids kindly and fairly. It was nothing more than white-washing, however, and a mode of make believe that evoked all sorts of inner distress for me. Though I am a writer, and creating fantasy is part of my trade, I prefer those illusions that don’t pretend for a second to be real.
I made several rounds of the Creation Story exhibit. I started crying a few times and hid in the hallway, not wanting to make a spectacle of myself. Those quilts and those murals had struck a nerve, a very deep one. I am like one of the bedspreads from Gees Bend and one of Thornton Dial’s sculptures. I am comprised of overused and overworked clothing, jagged edges, and other emotional bric-a-brac that, in the eyes of the world, have lost their usefulness. I desperately need to know that the shattered and discarded shards of my spirit can be reassembled into something winsome, if placed in the right hands. I have no use for illusions of comeliness that would take the darker hues and cover them up with a bright, yet poorly applied paint job. I have to believe that every scrap is redeemable, and to the Master Artist and Potter, every broken thing is not only beautiful, but a necessary and indispensable part of the portrait.