Dear Reader: As my time as a resident artist at the Mendocino Art Center passes, I’m feeling my way into the place—talking to people, relaxing into my work a bit, continuing to read Alain de Botton and John Armstrong’s Art As Therapy, and noticing how art and community relate to each other.
What Is Art? 1/31
We implicitly believe that artists should decide what they do, and according to processes that they don’t themselves completely understand. —AAT, deBotton and Armstrong
Early morning—up to watch the lunar eclipse in the pitch black darkness of a town where street lights can be few and far between. In search of the darkest dark I wander up the west end of narrow Calpella Street, where I find three other like minded sky observers. The moon and stars are spectacular. A companion points out Jupiter to the south just above the constellation Cygnus. Having ascertained what I am doing in Mendocino, a voice with an Aussie accent asks, “So what is art, anyway?” Ummmm…It’s just after 5 am; I’ve had no coffee; I’m freezing and completely absorbed by the reddish shadowy moon and brilliant stars. This is obviously not a right brain question.
But it is a good one—certainly one that matters. If, as deBotton and Armstrong speculate, art has achieved the status of a secular religion in western culture—then it’s a place many people put their spiritual concerns. My mumbled answer feels inevitably insufficient.
Later in the day, I am searching for a formal definition, a starting place. Here’s what I find: [art is] the application of human skill and imagination…producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power. There’s certainly something there; still, I realize, the answer to the question, as posed in the early morning of January 31, was not in words, but in the sky above us, in absorbing its moving, improbable beauty and rich, meaningful silence.
Finding the Way In 2/1
…art’s true historic mission: the promotion of a sensory understanding of what matters most in life. —ATT, deBotton and Armstron
There are those days in the studio when everything comes together with the suggestion that there is a true path and that you may have just stumbled across the trailhead. In a few hours two diptych boards—36x36” and 24x36” go from blank white gesso to a layered mix of oil
paint, cold wax, pigment sticks and charcoal, mitigated additions of Gamsol and Galkyd gel. There is a word scrawled across the surface of both boards, “acquaeous”. It is there to remind me of the color of water, its sharp salt smell, the way it moves. This piece has a way to go, but for now I’ll leave it drying out for a few days, waiting for more shims of color, darkness and light.
Art and Science 2/3
…art changes how we experience the world. AAT—deBotton and Armstrong
Between Mendocino and Ft. Bragg there’s a turn off to an older, narrower road that leads to the Point Cabrillo Lighthouse station. At the entrance to the half mile trail that leads to the light house is a warm and welcoming, hand illustrated and lettered sign. The Cabrillo Lighthouse Station was once touted as a perfect second home community. Local folks—people who saw the value in the lighthouse, the outbuildings and the marine life that inhabit this place—spearheaded a preservation project and petitioned to make it a state park. It is still largely staffed by volunteers.
Visitors can stop by a small museum of wonders organized by local marine biologists—shells, starfish and anemones and a whale watching platform. Then there is the light house itself—an odd, schoolhouse looking structure with its magnificent multifaceted beacon. I’ve seen the lighthouse beacon flashing in a steady rhythm from the Mendocino Headlands when I walk there at night. The glass lens is beautiful, a complex piece of art and craft.
There is a bi-annual exhibit at the non-profit Pence Gallery in my home town called The Consilience of Art and Science. Being away means I’m missing it this year. But here—the lighthouse, the sea life, the meadow crisscrossed with spare decaying fencing from the sheep ranch days all have the sense that this is a place where art and science cohabit. Tonight I am drawing constellations.
Exhibits and Art Makers 2/5
…[an] agenda for art in a liberal society would be to assist the individual soul in search for consolation, self understanding and fulfillment. ATT—deBotton and Armstrong
Like most arts organizations, the Mendocino Art Center promotes memberships, which aim to create a steady flow of income as well as involve people more closely in art with class discounts and member opportunities. The new year kicks off with a member show in the gallery. There’s a wide variety of work—paintings, drawings, prints, photography and some very large sculptures. Local exhibits interest me—I like to see what people are up to in a particular place.
[Our culture is moving toward] an art of participation rather than just spectatorship… AAT deBotton and Armstrong
In addition to the arts center show, there are a number of galleries in the area. Ft. Bragg’s gallery night is first Friday—which proves to be a happening event. Four galleries and a co-operative ring a one block area and it’s crowded with artists and art viewers.
I’ve noticed this sheer abundance of art work in many small communities over the past year,— exciting evidence of creative engagement—both on the part of the artists and for the large numbers of people who want to interact with art—to have it be part of their lives, to live with art and make it themselves, as in this toy store window in Ft. Bragg, this mechanic’s bulletin board, and the window of a small house at the bottom of the hill on Calpella Street.