Some Thoughts on the Place of Art in Our Lives

Okay. So. Promotion is not my thing. I’ve put together this beautiful gallery show, but no one is coming in. I had hoped to take advantage of the holiday shopping season, with moderately priced art as an alternative to the usual fare. I’d reasoned that in a town like Nyack, New York, which has a long history as a home to artists in various genres—writers, painters, actors—people would be open to buying a small painting as a gift. I have bought art for friends and family as Christmas gifts on more than one occasion. The work in the show is absolutely beautiful. But, Christmas shoppers are on a mission. And art is not on their checklist. They pass by, glance in, keep going. They stand outside the window, pausing by the bench in front, to make phone calls. They wonder aloud to each other about where to head next, while standing in front of our door, and move on or call it a day.

I wonder, Are people intimidated by art? Do they just not know what to do with it, how to approach it? Is this why they just walk by? Do they think that they don’t “get it”? Or that they do not have time for it?

Years ago, I was in a small women’s group. We met for years, bi-weekly, and talked about the deep roots of women-centered religions and cultures through time, from the Sumerians to the Greeks, and how an understanding of myth in art and practice might influence us as modern women. It was a thoughtful group, a group of creative and caring women (comprised of a nurse, two psychologists, a film maker, a hypnotist, and me, a writer). The group was facilitated by one of the psychologists, but at times, we each facilitated evenings, the better to know each other and to expand and engage our creative thinking. Years before, I had taken the urgings of mythologist Joseph Campbell to “follow your bliss” to heart and reasoned that poetry was mine. So, one evening, I brought in a stack of about 25 books of poetry, those that contained some of my favorite poems, the ones I went to for solace. I wove a talk around the poems, selecting intuitively as I went. Through my readings and elucidations, the other women were discovering poetry almost for the first time. Several admitted to being intimidated, to thinking that they could not understand poetry. They had shied away. But, after my sharing, they began to know that they could read a poem, they could “understand” poetry. I had opened a door for them. Some even bought books after that evening!

The question of intimidation has arisen in the past few weeks among friends who have stopped by the gallery. They are impressed with the work and range of the artist, Beata Wehr, and with my installation of it. I have created dynamic space in which to engage the books and paintings. I have positioned tables and chairs and stools in an invitation to sit and “read” the artist’s books, which are visual narratives. But almost no one has come. No one sits.

Perhaps (probably more than a “perhaps” at this point), I have been naive. Creating beauty, whether in the art itself or in the presentation of it, is not sufficient to the task of engagement. How do we inspire people to engage art when there are so many things in any given day vying for our attention? I keep thinking of several lines by New Jersey poet William Carlos Williams from “Asphodel, That Greeny Flowrer:” He writes: “It is difficult / to get the news from poems / yet men die miserably every day / for lack / of what is found there.”

I have found so much to feed my soul and creative spirit in Beata’s work. Through an autumn and now winter teetering on the edge of pneumonia, during which I have missed many days of work and been stuck at home, the choosing of the art, the composing of the show, and during respite from illness, the mounting of it, has continually inspired and enlivened me. I want to share that inspiration.

This show was a first pass, a testing of waters. As I have said to a number of people, putting it together has been an act of “living an open question.” By that I mean that I do not know what the question I need to be asking at this point in my life is.  But I could feel the impetus to create this show, to engage the world of art and artist’s books once again. The act itself is the question. So I will continue to wait and watch. I will wait for the answer to a question I can barely form, a question about how to move forward  in my life, about where to direct my passion, about what my work should be?

Such waiting is an act of creative engagement itself. I don’t expect to have an answer, but rather to live it.

Won’t you join me? Please comment. I’d like to know your thoughts.

23 Proofs for Existence of the Past ,Unique Artist's Book by Beata Wehr. Copyright Beata Wehr.
23 Proofs for Existence of the Past ,Unique Artist’s Book by Beata Wehr. Copyright Beata Wehr.