Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Nine Heartbreakingly Beautiful Things...

When I was in art school, the word "beautiful" was a dirty word.  It was kind of like calling something, "icing".  It was even worse to call something "pretty" or "cute".  That is unless it could be quantifiable, theorized, provoked the viewer, and/or have its plasticity "pushed" and "pulled".  Perhaps that's why I never really fit into art school.  I never felt at ease in an environment hungry for proverbial steak and potatoes, where calling something "ugly" was giving it high marks.  Sure, I made good grades and I got all the concepts, working hard and diligently to absorb as much as possible.  But at my very core, "beautiful" wasn't a dirty word.

Since I've left art school, I've been in a slow process of deprogramming myself and really defining what looking at art and the world means to me.  I've had to ask myself why "beautiful" was never a criticism, but one of the highest praises.  Countless factors could go into what makes something "beautiful".  One idea that I've rolled around in my head is that it has to break your heart a little.  If there's a tiny pang of hurt or a flutter of feeling, then the work did its job – the work is beautiful.

Below is a short list of nine pieces of art that have broken my heart a little (in a good way):

Anne Choi is by far one of my favorite beadmakers.  Her pieces are little works of art that are imbued with a sense of poetry, grace, and bittersweet memories.  This dancing stag beetle bead in sterling silver captures an Antonín Dvorák quote that reads, "Silver moon upon the deep dark sky this sleeping world you wander by."

I first met Jennifer Sarkilahti in a Summer Residency program at the School of Visual Arts.  At that time, Odette NY (her successful jewelry company) was only a glimmer in her eye.  Swallowed up in the gestural nebulas she created with paint and tape, I remember getting completely lost in her ethereal paintings. 
College is one of my favorite mediums.  The idea of taking two or more things of different origins and combining them into a cohesive hybrid is fascinating to me.  I think that's why I'm drawn to the work of Nicole McConville.  She pulls together forgotten and rusty things and transforms them into works of art that peel back the skin of nostalgia and digs around for visceral, golden moments lost in time.  Her pieces seem to "remember".

Often times whimsical and fantastical, Jen Tong's work finds a cornerstone in longing – whether longing to belong, to believe, or to have companionship, her work examines the space between.  Using subtle dark humor, sensuality, and a high degree of sensitivity, she explores the realms of "the divide".

To look at Monica Cook's work is to quite literally know her.  For years, she has worked with self-portraiture.  She mixes tight technical skill with loose amorphous dreamscapes, to investigate what it means to be human, a vessel of histories and stories.

Iviva Olenick, a Brooklyn-based artist, uses textiles and fabrics to tell stories.  In her series, Were I So Besotted, she delves into the world of modern dating.  Sometimes funny, sometimes melancholy, she captures a very relatable state of searching for connection.

Japanese Pop Art has helped influence Chicago-based artist, Jeremiah Ketner of Small and Round, to create a dreamy, pastel world bounding with cute creatures and sensual nymphs.  I've known Jeremiah for years and have taken great pleasure watching him use many layers of paint and pattern to explore this vibrant and happy imagined-landscape.

Having a collage sensibility, Amy Wilson's work weaves together vast quantities of text with her drawings and watercolors.  She pulls the words from fundamentalist political views, journal entries and art criticism, to help illustrate and expound upon her "industrious little girls".  She uses the little girls, as a symbol for herself, to explore the outside world with the internal.

Using mixed media, Nina Bagley creates narrative jewelry.  Her pieces made of fabric, semi-precious stones, silver chain, and found objects are the result of bridging the ephemeral and fleeting with a concrete present.  Nina masterfully crafts work that functions as touchstones that embody the act of cherishing every moment – capturing stories in the wind and words from the heart.  Each piece is a poem.


SummersStudio said...

Andrew, I have been thinking about this all morning. This question of beauty and art, or is it art if it's beautiful, has haunted me for a long time. But the idea that 'art' as something that is 'beautiful' because it tugs at your heart appeals to me. It opens all sorts of doors into looking at the world around us and what it means. Undoubtably, I will continue to think about this.

Andrew Thornton said...

It's strange because I've met so many different people with each their own perspective on what is ART and what is beautiful. And I know that there's no one way about it. Everyone has a special gift seeing or interacting with the world around them... it's about finding the things that stand out in their mind and elevating them from mundane, to truly something special.

This is just one way I've been able to navigate the art world without imploding under theory.

SummersStudio said...

Oh my goodness, don't implode under the theory. I went from design school and was a disaster because I was too conceptual. I did other things and came back to 'art.' There is very much room for all of us. Leave the theory in it's art school home and just experience things! Have you read Hint's post today 'copying'. It's an interesting and very thought provoking read with parallel thoughts to your own.

TesoriTrovati said...

Andrew -
I love the way you think. I love the way you write. You have enjoyed experiences I can only dream of. Your soul is so clearly that of an artist. My daughter once asked me what an artist is...I didn't even hesitate when I said that an artist is someone who sees the extraordinary in the ordinary. By seeing the world around you as extraordinary, you become that artist. So it really shouldn't matter if you were in art school or the school of life... I believe that being an artist is a state of mind and it took me a long time to come to terms with that, to believe that I was an artist. I love these nine things and the artists at the heart of these beautiful and varied works of art. I thank you for sharing your love of these things that "break your heart a little"...what a wonderful way of putting it.

And, by the way.... your work and your writing break my heart a little...

Thank you for being such an incredible inspiration!

Enjoy the day!

jennifer said...

you just made me crazy miss painting, andrew!

jennifer said...

and thank you verbalizing many of the issues I had in art school myself. although i found more conceptual work and ideas interesting, i was mostly drawn to art where i found something that gave me that "tiny pang," as you call it.

Andrew Thornton said...

Thanks Erin for your kind words. They really do flatter me.

It took me a long time to come up with this working definition, but I think an artist is the maker of things. Whether it's ideas, objects, dreams, or fairy tales... an artist creates.

Each of us has the potential to embrace the idea of artist and make things. The possibilities are limitless!

Andrew Thornton said...

Hey Sarkilahti! I'm sorry that I made you miss painting. There aren't enough hours in the day to do everything we want, I suppose. But you are still the maker of beautiful things and should remember the great many magical things you've made that have given so many people little pangs of love.

I can appreciate conceptual art and love all types, ranging from the simple clean lines of Agnes Martin, to the works of Sol Lewitt, to Yoko Ono, Walter De Maria, Tracey Emin, and Andrea Fraser... etc. But what I found was that this road wasn't for me. At least not overtly. I had to release some of the responsibility for contextualizing my own work and just make.