Saturday, January 31, 2009

Art vs. Form as Function

Creativity and the Everyday

An article in last April’s New York Times by Glenn Collins reminded me that art used to be the everyday. In traditional earth-based societies everywhere around the world, everyday objects---from spoons to moccasins, camel knee-pads to bowls---were decorated and used. There was no distinction between “fine” or “high” art and functional art, no difference between an elite corps of artists and the regular person.

I think we’ve lost something in moving from art as function to form as function. While we still admire the lines of an expensive sink faucet or the new wood paneled refrigerator, are we missing opportunities to express our own vision of the world in our daily lives?

We’re closer to imbuing our lives with creative energy when we hang our children’s finger-painted masterpieces on the refrigerator door, or tack their first drawing of a tree---even though it might be purple---to the board by our desks. We allow this expression to our children, but what about to ourselves?

In the article, “All the Colors of the Rugs the Nomads Walked On,” Collins remarks about camel knee covers: “…the curiosity is that they are so intricately woven, so richly patterned and so extraordinarily colorful.” The pieces are “…so much more glorious than they need to be…” The curator of the show being referenced, Jon Thompson is quoted as saying, “Everything here was made for some purpose. And someone put effort and energy---and love---into making it.”

I remember studying Native cultures from various parts of the world. My second major in undergraduate school was cultural anthropology; I returned for my first Masters degree in the same subject. Part of what’s always drawn me to the Original Peoples of the world is their creativity. The way the nomads of the Middle East wove with “a riot of color in a landscape that is beige,” as the rug show’s assistant curator said. The way even the most crooked pottery from the early Anasazi culture of the American Southwest carries lines and dots and geometric patterns to embellish it. How tiny the patterns of the woven baskets of Africa are; or the intricacies of porcupine quill weaving in Northeast America.

And all these items were used. They weren’t sequestered away on museum shelves protected from touch. The purpose was to use all these products. Expressing creativity was an everyday, accepted, even expected part of daily life.

Wouldn’t it be lovely to get back to that quality of life? Everyone as an artist…every object a work of art.