On “making” things

Making things satisfies a place in us that rolls on its belly and purrs when its fed, but it’s  infrequently nourished. By now you’ve noticed that I advocate us all to make something (see prior posting Make Something). But beyond that I’d like to remind us all of the things we do “make” which might be over-looked.

This quarter I’ve been teaching a class about art and culture to a group of very enthusiastic students who have very little prior exposure to Art history or theories of art making. I like to think of them as representing the majority of Americans that like the “idea” of art, but for various reasons have never thought of themselves as Makers. Most people (the vast majority, in fact) are intimidated by the notion of making art themselves. They were told somewhere along the way that they cannot and should not make art.

The problem I’m seeing is that that those same people are always the same ones who are most eager to poo-poo art in general. I don’t understand Modern art, they say, meaning they don’t fancy the screaming video installations or voyeuristic portraits of transvestites featured by many art galleries and art magazines. They’ve been intimidated by the cult of art appreciation: a group which defends its contemporary art with 20 page long treatises or a nose in the air saying, If you don’t get it, then its beyond your comprehension. This attitude of snobbery, exclusion and over-intellectualization causes your average person to either a.) reject and avoid most art, or b.) humbly qualify their own interest in art. They lower their voice when they talk about an artist they found online. They look away when telling you about something they think is aesthetically interesting.

Those who are uncertain of their ability to evaluate art need not be so insecure. I wish more people could reclaim their confidence in art selection. Because making choices about the imagery you like is a form of making as well. What you think is good should be justified by what you think – not by what ArtForum or MOMA say is good – and your opinion should be enough. I could give this little pep-talk all day long, but I think it would be more significant to show you the one place where people are making the choices on a regular basis (and most don’t even realize it). This place is the computer desktop.

If we want to find the one place where people are making choices and displaying their artistic preferences, look at their iphone backgrounds and their computer. The things we pick for our desktop wallpaper is the most ubiquitous expression of artistic preference. We look at it daily, apply critical thought to its selection, change the image with relative frequency, and generally enjoy the images we select. This kind of artistic engagement is something everyone is doing – even more so as iphones & laptops because inseparable parts of one’s daily (hourly?) experience.

Begin a maker (at its simplest level) involves making choices. If you can make a choice about what to look at in your private desktop/phone space, then you can make a choice about what an item of your own creation should look like. Identifying this common experience that “artists” and “non-artists” share is a good step towards democratizing art to a level that can be enjoyed, appreciated and confidently discussed by all. In a time when K-12 art programs are being axed from public curricula, I think we’d all do well to examine what we regard as art. It shouldn’t be something that someone told us is “Art;” it should be that thing that you chose, out of countless others, to look at everyday when you press the “On” button. Maybe if more people realized how much art they actually make and make choices about they’d be more inclined to recognize its important role in our lives and educational development.

Below is a photo taken by a lovely woman and talented photographer, Tanya Anguita.

I’d like to invite readers and friends to send me what you are using as your wallpaper backgrounds. For the next month I’ll feature it on this site.

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