One of my favorite art quotes is from Herbert Marcuse, a hard-to-read but brilliant philosopher. In The Aesthetic Dimension he writes, “Art breaks open a dimension inaccessible to other experience, a dimension in which human beings, nature, and things no longer stand under the established reality principle…The encounter with the truth of art happens in the estranging language and images which make perceptible, visible, and audible that which is no longer, or not yet, perceived, said, and heard in everyday life.” Wow. Love that quote. (And I sound so impressive when I repeat it to someone.)
Art opens up another world—a world that I want to live in. And it’s not about the finished product necessarily. I don’t spend a lot of time looking for creative inspiration in museums (although there are definitely noteworthy examples to the contrary.) But in general, the art in museums doesn’t feel accessible to me, perhaps because it’s packaged up behind neat, tidy, bullet-proof plexi-glass cases. My experience in museums is often “dry” (intellectual), rather than “juicy” (sensory or emotional).
In his book, No More Secondhand Art, the artist Peter London describes walking through an art museum as a graduate student. The art exhibit included the works of some of the greatest artists of the 20th century, yet he left the exhibit feeling drained. “We…came away quiet and joyless, as if life had been somehow drained from us. Why?…There was no vitality here, no direct engagement with life, with its mind- and soul-slamming mysteries…It was secondhand art. We left the gallery stunned and saddened, disoriented. How could the best and the brightest be so tedious, so empty, so dead?” He writes, “What ingredient is missing whose presence would make the work throb with vitality and invite us to live more fully–or at least to see more fully–as a consequence?…we seem to have lost contact with the earlier, more profound functions of art, which have always had to do with personal and collective empowerment, personal growth, communion with this world, and the search for what lies beneath and beyond this world.”
I teach many creative process classes, and I always have a student or two who want to see my “art.” Maybe someday I’ll have something to offer them, but for now, I’m fascinated by the PROCESS. The process is what inspires me. It’s aesthetic and beautiful precisely because it’s NOT behind a plastic case. When we’re in the process, we get messy. We get to immerse ourselves in that big, immense dark space of the unknown.