Thursday, May 12, 2005

a little light blogging

I've been a little less bloggy than usual, for the past couple of days -- one day, I was at meetings and then out of town, and another, my folks got back from an Elderhostel in western Colorado, where they rode trains & scrambled around Mesa Verde, among other activities. Mom took a few hundred photos, & then had to download them, edit them, & otherwise hog her computer so I couldn't go a-huntin' and a-playin' online... darn her! She thinks she can appease me by bringing me gifts of really cool books. Hmmmph!

Yesterday, in fact, I was kept offline while attended a meeting of Old Friends Talk Arts (OFTA), an open-to-the-public discussion group, at which the designated topic was “Boundaries:  The Meaning and Significance of  Frames, Bases, and Pedestals”. I'd once worked in a frame shop and gallery which sold bad art to worse people, so I was looking forward to seeing what was said about frames -- and, besides, I'm a member of OFTA, so I was morally obliged to attend, just because.

The opening salvo was fired -- er, um -- the discussion was begun by Monmouth College's Professor Emeritus Harlow Blum (whose area of expertise in the arts is painting). Blum introduced many members of the group to the virtues of the eccentric frames and unusual forms of pedestals, showing woven basked frames for some of his paintings and mixed media canvases, a handful of tabletop easels, and a few other found artifact bases, such as cut wood planks, all used to heighten interest in the work of art.

When Blum was finished waxing poetic, Knox College Profesor Emeritus Henry Joe, a superb ceramicist (IMHO -- and it has little to do with the fact that he's married to one of my bestest friends), described how, at the beginning of the 20th century, a revolution in art occurred. Before this time, the standard for art was to depict the world around, to be as literal as possible in imitation of nature, but at the turn of the last century, there was a sudden shift in the very nature of art itself. Instead of depicting, in trying to freeze moments by putting them on canvas, artists were more interested in eliciting feelings, emotional responses. He pointed out the development of the ever-more ephemeral works of art that are being created, such as the Cristo Gates in Central Park, and how they are no longer depictions but elicitation, and how they demonstrate the impermanence of life, by the way they may come, change, and then vanish. This view has led to many artists refusing to frame their works, in the belief that, once it is contained, it becomes static, unchanging, no longer lifelike in the spiritual sense.

The discussion led to whether or not an unframed piece might be considered framed by its environment, i.e., a sculpture might be marked and fixed in a stone garden, and Henry said that the difference was that a frame was, essentially, a cage, whereas the environment might be changeable. Still, he pointed out many artists refuse to allow their works to be displayed in museums or traditional galleries for just that reason -- the space is too fixed.

When the hour was ended, I mentioned to the man who had asked the question about environment being a frame, that it seemed to me, the frame served as a translator between the work and its environment. A canvas has a defined edge, and, in many cases, needs to have a buffer between it and the wall where it hangs. In many other cases, the frame is actually a part of the work, as well -- a cooperative effort between painter and framer. It can serve as either an enticement to look more closely at the work, or it can jar the eye and drive the viewer to a distance.

I did enjoy seeing the difference in perspectives between a canvas man and a ceramics man -- both are firmly of the Asian school, where spirituality is the essence of art and expression, but one is more interested in the iconography, the other in the suitablity of an object to its environment.

In the post-discussion discussions, Mom pointed out that the modern ephemera seem to fail in their attempt to break free of static form, in that, if the event is recorded with a camera, it becomes once again fixed. Harlow Blum also confessed that he felt those sorts of works which were here for only a moment were less straight art, and more theater (I agreed).

After the meeting, Mom & I went to Galesburg, & picked up her latest counted cross stitch masterpiece (and I mean that literally) from the Frame Works (a scene from her last trip to Glacier Nat'l Park, from a photo she took herself & charted herself, and took just over 3.5 months to complete). She's entered it in the judged Amateur Artists' show, which opens in two weeks. I doubt anybody else will have anything comparable in art and technique. I wish I'd inherited her eyesight and ability to concentrate. The best I can do, when approaching zen, is watercolor.

I really enjoy attending these OFTA events. They meet the second Wednesday of each month, at the Buchanan Center for the Arts, on the Square in Downtown Monmouth, and nearly every time, the discussion is lively and challenging. And it clearly demonstrates that living in a town with a population of under 10 thousand doesn't have to be stifling.

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