Quotes from the Field, Volume 5

Carrie Mae Weems, “The Hampton Project,” exhibition at the Williams College Museum of Art, 2000. Photo by Cdebary

This edition of Quotes from the Field (see: previous posts), features quotes from artists Alfredo Jaar, Carrie Mae Weems and Susan Meiselas. Each quote is interpreted within the framework of educational themes. There is a commonality between each quotation in this edition, which is the idea of art being transformative and intrinsic to the human experience. Art takes us on a journey where the destination isn’t always predetermined, and the process is full of enlightening explorations, discoveries and insights.

“For me, culture is the true capital of societies. When you go to a country, you admire their intellectuals, their ideas, their work. That’s what I retain from the countries I visit.” Alfredo Jaar on the benefits of culture within civilization. – Afredo Jaar

Throughout this blog, a wide variety of posts make a case for the benefits that creativity and artistic experiences have on society at large.

Art is one of the most consistent forms of cultural capital, because it is a profound and deeply personal way to understand civilizations of the past and present. While historians and critics tend to like to label and organize things into neat academic terms, movements, ideas (i.e. the chronology of the history of art), all art is contemporary, because the artist made/makes it in their own environment and era, as a response to modern day stimuli. Through making a work of art, the artist is communicating ideas and experiences that have an impact on their daily lives.

While looking at works of art that spans time and borders, we can make connections to our own lives and identify common patterns that are intrinsic within the human condition. These patterns include the desire to communicate, to build things, create myths and complex belief systems and explore the natural phenomenon around us. Our need to communicate, is supported by a multidimensional model of artistic development (see: Louis, 2005), which identifies how we  learn through experiential and parallel movement throughout three independent realms: “representational intention, mastery of visual/graphic concepts and the expressive use of the mediating properties” of materials.

According to Jaar, art can effect sociocultural and political changes (Mashabala, 2019). Art is a powerful resource for symbolically expressing the audacity of hope and the ingenuity of the spirit and mind. Art is a necessity, which provides insight into the ‘heart and soul’ of people and cultures around the world. This is why it is so essential for art and art education to be equally and equitably available for everyone.

In addition to contextualizing and expressing our experiences with the world around us, art prompts us to make compassionate worldly connections and develop a thirst for learning more about ourselves and others.

“I didn’t know that photography would take me to the places it has taken me” – Carrie Mae Weems

Carrie Mae Weems, found her voice by exploring the medium of photography. She recounts the story of how she got her first camera at the age of 21 as a gift from her boyfriend.

Initially, Weems was determined to employ photography as a means for documenting her political beliefs, and through exploration, she gained insightful knowledge into how she could relate these political and social messages into the awe-inspiring  multidisciplinary art forms, which she is renowned for.

Weems uses her camera to scrutinize the world around her on a very intimate level. Her imagery elicits both boldness and solace at once. Weems’ process is defined by her willingness to take risks and use photography to evoke sociocultural and political activism.

Two studio habits of mind that we develop through artistic learning, are ‘taking action’ and ‘living with ambiguity.’ We learn by experience, trying out new ideas and techniques and being open to changing course during the creative process. Sometimes working with specific themes, mediums and materials will direct us to other avenues that were previously not considered as viable, and in light of new discoveries, we become emboldened and liberated by newfound insights.

Having the wherewithal to embrace ambiguity, challenge ourselves to step ‘out of the box,’ and be flexible with our intentions, are lifelong skills that are learned via the arts.

“The camera is an excuse to be someplace you otherwise don’t belong. It gives me both a point of connection and a point of separation.” – Susan Meiselas

In keeping with themes of cultural capital and transference, the above quote by documentary photographer Susan Meiselas describes how artists use their medium to make connections to the world around them, while also finding transcendence from the norm.

Artists have a unique role within society as synthesizers of both the personal and unfamiliar realms. They can help us see the world through new perspectives and formulate a bridge between ideas, people and cultures.

As a documentary photographer, Meiselas uses her creative intuition and credibility to gain access into other people’s environments. A good artist is aware of how to responsibly stretch boundaries and connect with the people they represent. They portray their subjects with integrity and ingenuity, in a manner that allows the viewer to be transported into a realm they might have never thought was reachable.

References, Notes, Suggested Reading:

Louis, Linda L. “What Children Have in Mind: A Study of Early Representational Development in Paint.” Studies in Art Education, vol. 46, no. 4, 2005, pp. 339–355. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/25475761

Mashabela, Khanya, “Alfredo Jaar on the Capacity of Culture.” Hyperallergic. 18 Feb. 2019. https://hyperallergic.com/484801/alfredo-jaar-cape-town/

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