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Art is Experience

March 19, 2012

Our venue for Janet Clemens’ show is not as gracious as it might have been without construction, but we are fortunate to have her work on display, off-setting perhaps the rough work zones.

But then again, Janet might like the look of the work areas, with the evolving lines, shapes, and surfaces. As Janet explains in her artist’s statement:

“I’m intrigued with all types of lines—those that exist in nature, architecture, and especially those produced by drawing and painting.” The pieces in her show are line drawings with patterned collage.

Maybe that should be “in” patterned collage. Some of the pieces are seamless, so it’s hard to be sure they are collages. Perhaps this is how image leaves the object behind.

Friday night, I had a long talk with friends about art, and in particular what might be the distinction between fine art and crafts. For a while, the ideas hovered around useful objects vs. images, but that of course left a lot of both in the middle.

Some painters, such as Frank Stella, have insisted their paintings are objects, not mere image. Of course, they are objects, being made of sticks and cloth and paint. Janet Clemens’ work has that palpable appeal.

Something about drawing hints of exploration; something about collage of memorabilia. They often have the wabi-sabi qualities so respected in Japanese cultures.

Some of Janet’s layers might be no more than patinas. You want to touch them to feel what of the pattern is image and what is actual surface.

When the drawing has been carefully cut out and added to the collage, you find a different kind of line—an edge. Edges provide many of the unique lines in architecture.

I’ve probably waxed eloquent before about the old Santo Domingo de Guzmán monastery in Oaxaca, Mexico, that has long halls of gorgeous plaster walls that feel soft to the touch, with beautiful curves and dimples, like flesh. At the end of certain halls were large openings—windows without glass, open to the air.

The sharp-edged view of the city was irresistible and rewarding, again and again. One might argue those windows were works of art.

As brought up in conversation Friday night, philosopher John Dewey proposed that art is experience, and upon examination, it’s hard to refute. Art is not the object or the image but our response to them. Ultimately, it’s not just the artist who makes art.

This issue is complicated. Must an artist have an audience other than herself? Who read Emily Dickinson’s poems during her lifetime?
In our culture, we fret a bit in the plastic arts about fine art vs. crafts, as if an exquisitely crafted wooden bowl might not be art. We also complicate the experience with money, a pernicious preoccupation that spoils much of life.

Don’t get me wrong—everyone must make his way and survive. But we attach value to art, and the primary means of value in our culture is money.

It’s funny to consider art as experience when, in fact, money isn’t anything more than that. Most of our money is in bits and bytes stored in computers; we are able to exchange things for it by mere mutual agreement, an experience much like waving a wand.

But I digress. One of the pleasures of looking at drawings is that I can almost feel the making of the lines in my hand. Some of Janet’s lines look especially luscious—but then she does say her favorite pencil is soft graphite.

Perhaps mine is the reaction of someone who doesn’t do it but is nevertheless drawn to the work. Perhaps that makes me an artist?


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