As many of you know, I have always brought an intensity to my work and for decades have immersed myself in the realms of public policy and strategy. My rambles have cut that cord and left me adrift to currents originating from the insights of friends and strangers and by the vagaries of fortune.
Without any intentionality on my part but thanks to these currents, I’ve found myself immersed time and again in worlds created by artists from the second day of my journey when I stumbled on the Mattress Factory in Pittsburgh (see this prior post) to my stay in Marfa in rural Texas where Donald Judd, a famous minimalist artist, purchased a former U.S. Army Base and more than 340 acres to display large-scale installations.
I have no idea how you define art (although I’ve added some intriguing definitions at the end of this post). For me, I simply find it provocative. At its best, it can challenge me to look at the world and at my life in new ways and lead me to change my perspective.
During my trip through New England, I had the joy of spending time at the Storm King Art Center, the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (MASS MoCA) and Hope Cemetery. Now the latter entry may raise an eyebrow or two since a cemetery is not often thought of as a repository for art. I’ll leave it to you to distinguish craft from art but the stone carvers of Barre, Vermont, the “Granite Capital of the World,” are artisans from my perspective.
Hope Cemetery is the final resting place for many of the stone carvers and their families and understandably provided inspiration for their work. If you are traveling in upper Vermont, it is worth a stroll through the cemetery and a tour of the largest granite quarry in the world. In the cemetery, the figures, bas-reliefs and ornate crypts range from whimsical to heartbreaking. In my photo below you’ll see William and Gwendolyn Halvosa sitting up in their “marriage bed” in pajamas, holding hands, their tombs stretched out before them. Inscription: “Set me as a seal upon thine heart for love is strong as death” – Song of Solomon 8:6. Spend some time and you’ll see race cars, a soldier smoking a cigarette with a portrait of a girl floating in the curl of smoke, a “bored” angel, a baseball player, a biplane, . . .
Storm King, an open-air museum an hour north of New York City, offers a bucolic setting of rolling hills set between mountains and the Hudson river. Its 500 acres is reported to contain the largest collection of outdoor sculptures in the United States. I found it exhilarating walking down the paths and stumbling upon a new view and work of art. Perhaps my favorite moments were standing quietly as the wind caressed and drew out the whispers and music of a field of native grasses and wildflowers with Pyramidian, a monumental sculpture by Mark di Suvero, standing watch in the distance, and a later opportunity to amble around Maya Lin’s undulating Wavefield.
MASS MoCA carried the edginess of the Mattress Factory to a daunting scale since it took over a massive factory complex in North Adams, Massachusetts. In its heyday, the Arnold Print Works employed more than 3,000 workers and produced 330 miles of textiles per week. The complex was taken over by an electric company that produced capacitors during World War II and launch systems for moon missions until it closed in the 1980s. The brick buildings and warren of streets that comprise the physical plant is as expansive as MASS MoCA’s vision to “embrace all forms of art: music, sculpture, dance, film, painting, photography, theater, and new, boundary-crossing works of art that defy easy classification.” I sense you could wander here for days and I spent a good portion of the day going from gallery to gallery. If you go, get reservations in advance for the virtual reality experiences by Laurie Anderson and light installations by James Turrell.
I came away inspired to get to Turrell’s Roden Crater, a natural cinder cone crater located outside Flagstaff, Arizona that he is turning into a massive naked-eye observatory when it opens. Do you want to join me? Does it meet your definition of art?
Art is the unceasing effort to compete with the beauty of flowers – and never succeeding. Marc Chagall (1887–1985) Russian-French artist
The imitator is a poor kind of creature. If the man who paints only the tree, or flower, or other surface he sees before him were an artist, the king of artists would be the photographer. James McNeill Whistler (1834–1903), American-born artist
Filling a space in a beautiful way. That’s what art means to me. Georgia O’Keeffe (1887–1986), American painter
Ideas alone can be works of art….All ideas need not be made physical.…A work of art may be understood as a conductor from the artist’s mind to the viewer’s. But it may never reach the viewer, or it may never leave the artist’s mind. Sol LeWitt (1928–2007), American artist
To evoke in oneself a feeling one has experienced, and…then, by means of movements, lines, colors, sounds or forms expressed in words, so to transmit that feeling—this is the activity of art. Leo Tolstoy (1828–1910), Russian author
To me, Art is an alternative world, one we create that stands in contrast to the world we regularly live in, which is messy, unplanned, unedited, uninspired, unfocused, draining, largely immoral….Art is the best of our imaginings, shaped to share. Vanessa Ochs, Fellowship Recipient from National Endowment for the Arts
Art is the most intense mode of individualism that the world has known. Thomas Merton (1915–1968), American Trappist monk