I was not good at art and had never taken a class in it, until the 9th grade. Many in the class were talented and I wondered if I had made a mistake. Our teacher was Mr. Lampson. He was passionate about art. Early in the year he mentioned a phrase that just drove him crazy. He explained that when he heard someone say, “I don’t know much about art, but I know what I like”, that he just wanted to yell. It offended him and he took it very personally.
He said it wasn’t really our decision if “Art was art”, adding that, "We don't inform art, that art informs us". I am sure he had a lot more to say and I do recall that it often came up.
Even though this class did not set me on the path of greatness in art, it did get me thinking, and over the years many things I learned told me that Mr. Lampson was right. Art does have its own role and purpose, but the question of whether art is a reflection of the artist’s feelings, or if art created those feelings, is still unclear. Maybe it is both?
Oscar Wilde, in his 1889 essay, "The Decay of Lying" said that: “Life imitates Art, more than Art imitates Life, and what is found in life and nature is not what is really there, but is that which artists taught people to find there, through art”.
Do we really see what is there, or what an artist taught us to see? It has been found that people do see what they are conditioned to see. When people are hypnotized and asked about what they saw when they walked through a room they have very different answers than when not hypnotized. They can remember the number of tiles on the ceiling, or even the faces on the magazines on the tables and they can’t remember those things otherwise. Their conscious mind was not interested in them. Those who believe that the artists taught us to see will like this.
Mr. Lampson also showed us how a lump of clay, spinning on a pottery wheel, grasped by an artists hands worked. It seemed magical as he created some beautiful bowls and vases. He wanted us to understand that the clay could talk to us and that what we finished with would be different from what we intended when we started. Learning how to listen seemed exciting.
Writers and artists reveal much about themselves in what they do but they also find a great deal waiting to be expressed.
New Mexico holds a real mystic for writers and they mention their time there often in their stories. Tony Hillerman, a well known New Mexico author, wrote a great deal about the cultures reflected in the art of its people, especially the Navajo. The stories were told as he saw it or perhaps as other artists taught him to see it.
Art is a path to connections, that can help us see ourselves differently. We can become better than we are by re-looking at the connections.