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Honoring tourists and tourism, those great gods of eat, drink, and commerce, the North Shore indulges in serried waves of butt-lifting obeisance to that which does make us wealthy along with popular and silly looking. In addition to a gallery here and a galleria there, we sally out a regular flow of art fairs, festivals, and celebrations. If it’s summer, there is bound to be an artistic something-or-other going on every weekend set up like the dragon boat event with an eager populace following on the heels of the venues parading in grand review along the North Shore. Capistrano has swallows. The great flyway has ducks. We’ve got migrating oriental boats and art fairs, so there. It might have its faults, but what says joy of summer more distinctively and poignantly than fake Thai ceremonial barges racing noisily on Lake Superior. It makes a body want to jet off of Bangkok, doesn’t it, though banging one’s head on a wall usually dispels that yen.
The funny thing about our arty celebrations and reputation as an artistic area is there’s probably not one in a ten thousand of us engraves an etching plate, tackles charcoal sketching, or commits a pastel assault on the senses once we got past grade seven art class. Not only that, but along with the bulk of America we share the popular dread and disdain of ART. It may be artsy types of people that rankle our Yankee spirits, but we lump them together with what they do as a sort of evil eye to be avoided. Here’s how I know. Half (arguably more) the males of an older generation had better hear the word “house” before “painter” as a descriptive for their grandson without feeling compelled to take the boy behind the barn for a fateful confrontation. The notion of beating sense into others is one of those hardwired things, especially for one gender. Grandmothers are less disposed to violence but have their own way of eviscerating the young with love syrup doled in serving spoon doses. “It’s okay, Janie (or Johnny)—Grandma still loves you and thinks you’ll make a wonderful poet.” Whether delivered behind the barn or in Grandma’s kitchen, the message comes that an artistic child is not suitable for public display. Even were that child to become poet laureate, his or her family would feel the stamp of public shame over of relative of no seeming earthly use other than demonstrating what can happen if a young person fails to apply themselves to something constructive.
Secretly, a good many people might desire to be artistic, but find this difficult to do when having to keep an eye peeled for the popular reactions of others. If you risk “art,” you have to be prepared to be laughed at or (worse) asked “What is it?” If you’ve invested 300 hours of concentration on the item, you don’t want to cope with sincere puzzlement. “What in the hell is that?” But, there is hope in the wings. Any of us can overcome these obstacles and objections by substituting CRAFT for ART. You can crochet tea cozies and pot holders by the gross and no one will laugh until they get home where you won’t have to see or face it. We macramé and quilt and weave and woodwork like glue-obsessed spinners of fibers woolen or wooden. Oh, it can turn out pretty, but it darn well better be something practical, or if not then at least so danged unusual it’s one heck of a conversation piece. Why else would a person paint scenes on old saw blades or decorate rocks to serve as door stops, if not to blur that devilish line between art and craft? Painting misshaped kittens on smooth stones is fine with us if the rock serves the purpose of holding open a door that needs help staying put. That’s practical and we are all collectively relieved it is so.
The ranks of crafters can conceal their share of eccentrics. For that rare individual with a need to compose copies of the Last Supper done in fish scales, the realm of crafting opens wide its doors of toleration, if not full acceptance. At times, though, I don’t understand a thing at all. I will stand in awe at the crafty artist’s bold dedication to what looks for all the world like a dead end to me. That happened to me in Paris, where I avoided the Eiffel and the Louvre with all the zeal I could muster. But there on a street below the Mount of the Martyrs was a man carving carrots. This form of expression has not yet reached the North Shore, so possibly this will put someone on notice of an opportunity to stand out that could prove big as dragon boating, as we have a lot more carrots handy that dragon boats needing large crews and the wail of loud, annoying drummers. Carrot carving is a quiet activity. In minutes I watched an Asian (I’m told Oriental has gone out of use) man turn a carrot into a carrot-size masterwork. This is an art where the size and shape of the carrot determines much. You’d have a hell of a time getting the Manhattan or Parisian skyline on a carrot. (I’ll skip over why you’d want to do such a thing as an inquiry too troublesome for the present.)
So within certain limits, carrot carving presents a world of artistic opportunity. We all appreciate a good carrot. There is no popular resistance against the vegetable. We cook it regularly in a host of dishes. We produce cake of it. The carrot has as much acceptance as you’re apt to find for a member of the flora. Except for the minority of food fanatacists who decry the carrot for sugar content, we are well-disposed to accept the carrot as bodily food. Why not as art to nourish the spirit? I paid a sum of francs for a rare species of art. I ate it around the corner to not offend the artisan seeing his creation’s head bit off. I do not apologize for artistic desecration. It was going to wilt, its beauty fade. It demanded to be eaten. I obeyed. There was no fishy taste, either, none whatever: proof that art does not too closely imitate life.