Sunday, June 17, 2012

What Happened to the Idea of the Artist as Visionary?

 "Quiet"   30x30"  Oil, cold wax on panel  ©2012 Janice Mason Steeves

As well as teaching painting in my workshops,  I encourage students to think beyond themselves in their work and consider the idea of the artist as visionary.   I talk about the possibility of art as being more than a reflection of current society.  When I googled 'artist as visionary', Wikipedia and many other sites, translate my phrase as Visionary Art.  "Visionary Art  is art  that purports to transcend the physical world and portray a wider vision of awareness including spiritual or mystical themes, or is based in such experiences."  Another link was to The American Visionary Art Museum, which defines Visionary art as " produced by self-taught individuals, usually without formal training, whose works arise from an innate personal vision that revels foremost in the creative act itself." 

But I'm not speaking of art that is done by artists who have no training. I'm also not talking about artists painting angels or goddesses reaching for the light.   What happened to the idea of art as being visionary?

In one workshop, I read a passage from  Jeanette Winterson's  book, Art Objects:
"Art is visionary; it sees beyond the view from the window, even though the window is it's frame….As things stand now, too much criticism of the arts concerns itself with attacking any suggestion of art as Other, as a bringer of realities beyond the commonplace.  Dimly, we know we need those other realities and we think we can get them by ransacking different cultures and rhapsodizing work by foreign writers simply because they are foreign writers.  We are still back with art as the mirror of life, only it is a more exotic or less democratic life than our own.  No doubt this has its interests but if we are honest, they are documentary.  Art is not documentary.  It may incidentally serve that function in its own way but its true effort is to open to us dimensions of the spirit and of the self that normally lie smothered under the weight of living."

In 2000, Adrienne Clarkson, then the Governor-General of Canada gave a speech at the first Governor-General's Awards for Visual and Media Arts.  In that speech, she said, "All art is magical activity, because even though its subject matter can be representational or abstract, it is mean to propel us to a level of consciousness that's not purely intellectual.  In this context, I am reminded of what the philosopher R.G. Collingwood said 60 years ago: 'Magical activity such as art, is a kind of dynamo supplying the mechanism of practical life with the emotional current that drives it.  So art is a necessity for every sort and condition of man and is actually found in every healthy society.  A society which thinks, as our own does, that it has outlived this need is wrong, or else it is a dying society, perishing for lack of interest in its own maintenance.' "

1 comment:

  1. I meant to say also that, again, I like the soft hues of blue in this painting. It reminds me of 'Your Thoughts of Stones'. I was recently criticised by men when I presented my poem "Her Blue Dress" in a workshop, and after your women followers had liked it. I thought, what do they know?