January dawn light, through frost-covered windows, shines onto my bedroom curtains,
and makes me remember this light on a dusky winter walk a few days before, in upstate New York:
When the sun unexpectedly shone for a bright moment on a snowy day in upstate New York, I ran to this window:
That same sun beam was lighting up this corner of the library. (What do you read on a day like this? That bookcase contains nothing but murder mysteries — I recommend something English, written before 1950.)
Back to that icy sparkling window: in the upper left hand corner is a peek at the backyard:
This is what the backyard looks like:
In the front yard, there is a gazebo where you can sit and look at loons and beavers on the pond.
And when it snows the very next day, this is what the snow around the gazebo looks like at night:
I want to frame all your comments this week! My replies were supposed to be attached individually (to Candice, Jacquelyn, and Janet) but turns out that the blogging elves weren’t in the mood and they just chucked everything into the flow. Julie and Nancy, my fellow reverent minimalists, and Deborah and Barbara: you are not alone — there’s a few of us out here who still keep our bullshit detectors in working order and we are with you.
Kim: I was heading in your direction for this post anyway but your story makes my job a little easier. Because today I want to talk about something I left out when I wrote about the “more is better’ style of art journaling that seems to be the esthetic norm of most how-to books on the subject. Now, I was warned by a professional in this field of art journaling instruction that I should stay away from this topic, that my criticisms would invite a lot of flak from the practitioners of visual abundance so I want to thank Toni, Shelly, and Els for their temperance. I was warned, actually, that this is a controversial topic in our art journaling community (who knew?) and that the debate could get really nasty (who knew?) but I’m going to GO THERE anyway.
What I left out of my monologue about the over-done appearance of art journals these days is my explanation of the difference between art as self-expression and art as communication.
I have almost nothing to say about art as self expression except that I don’t want to have to look at it.
I lied. I do have a something to say about art as self-expression. And here it is: It is very rare that anyone’s self-expression contains any communication, communication being the mutuality of the experience of art, the acknowledgment that the rest of us are not here on this earth just to be assaulted by your need to be heard. I know there is a myth out there that art is purely self-expressive but that is not so. In fact, one’s act of self-expression is so exceedingly uselessto the rest of us that when an some one’s act of S.E. actually manages to communicate to the rest of the world, that person is regarded as an artist and (if the communication is really, really good) is hailed as a genius. (Picasso, Van Gogh, Pollack, and the like: their acts of self-expression brought another element to their work — talent, truth, inspiration, a mystical tapping into the collective soul — that made the rest of us willing to meet the challenge of their art.) Genius, despite its being another word (like awesome and bizarre) that has been over-used to the vanishing point, is still rare. Artists are pretty rare, too, even though that word also has been over-used to the point of meaninglessness.
Self-expression is a good thing, a fine thing, and a necessary thing. It is also essentially a private thing: even those who teach the kitchen-sink school of art journaling often warn that these journals, layered with collage and gesso and cutlery, are too intimate to pass around in public; I applaud these teachers for showing great sensitivity towards their pupils. For those of you who took me to task for wanting to put the brakes on the self-expressive nature of these “altered book” journals I want to assure you that I have no intention of criticising the quality of the work produced or the impetus to go at it. Good for you. Express yourself to your heart’s content. That doesn’t make you an artist, but I’m almost certain that that’s not the point of that kind of art journaling anyway.
Just be aware that the result of all your efforts might be of exquisite value only to yourself because of the intensely personal nature of the craft. Also, since there seems to be an entire industry that depends on your buying stuff to cram onto those pages, to some of us, that makes the whole enterprise seem a little gimmicky, the antithesis of art or, even, self-expression. Is all I’m saying.
My purpose in writing about all this is to suggest, from my own humble experience as a freaking awesome communicator, that the art journal can become a meaningful conveyor of biography, information, experience, emotion, etc. You know, like a book. Like a good book. As opposed to a book-like object. An art journal can be the ocassion for a wonderfully mutual exchange: I give you my carefully thought-out text and illustrations and you give me your attention (no small thing in American culture), for which I feel honored and you feel like I’m a freaking awesome communicator. The way to do this is to temper self-expression with awareness that something — coherence, self-control, mastery of the craft, and respect (did I forget anything?)– is owed to your reader.
So, what have we learned today? We learned that I am the last person to teach anyone anything about self-expression, seeing as how there are already many people willing to show the way when it comes to that. But I will gladly share what I know about communication, something I cherish (Ha! Extra credit for using that word seriously!) . And those paint-chip brochures I raved about last Monday: think about the heavy-duty communicating going on in those — yes, they just want you to buy stuff, but they also hit all the same nerve circuits that a really good art journal should. Which I will enumerate next Monday because my fingers hurt from all this typing (Shorter Blogging is my New Year’s Resolution).
I’m still on my Winter Whites kick that I began on Monday with my post about 28 shades of white. Today I put up some photos of my most recent experience of January. Next Monday I will be putting up my art journal pages based on these two posts, something January-esque about light that I’ll have discovered this weekend when I sit down to paint, after having thought a bit more about what I seem to like so much about 28 shades of colorlessness and find something that is worth communicating. Right now, I have NO idea. But I’ll work on it.
Hence the title of this post.