Welcome. This blog site places before you a remarkable man, Charles Beck, an artist and teacher. This monthly series of stories begins by describing Charlie’s ways of being in the world, through my encounters with Charlie in the last decade of his life first as my colleague, then mentor and finally or rather for ever as my dearest friend. Year two of this blog expands to include my own hopefully and enduringly perspectives on art, on teaching and of a certain slant on life inflected by Charlie. ~ Peter London

What Good is Art?

"Art comes in the form of objects, 
but it is always more than that object …" - Peter

These are heady times just now. The stock market, with a few unnerving fits and starts surges ahead, unemployment is at its lowest in decades, and so are interest rates. Flush with newly formed mounds of the green stuff, people are putting their new cache to good use; that is we are buying cars, fridges, repainting the back room, dinning out more frequently, buying that other pair of shoes, upgrading vacation plans, these sorts of things. All seems well in this rosy land of ours (for the majority at least, never mind just now about those others). So the question arises in times such as these, who needs art? Indeed, what good is art?, what differentiates art from other goods? A brand new car is good. So is a nice new sofa. All new things have a certain sparkle, create a little stir in us, make the day's chores less tedious, and in general impart a nice glow to the quality of our lives. If ordinary things; cars, sofas, fedoras newly acquired, can do these good things for us, what good does art provide that adds something more and different to our lives? Put more directly, does looking attentively at a painting, listening closely to a concert, savoring a poem, attending a play or ballet, impart a special quality to our lives that say, sitting behind the wheel of a spanking new Ford, or Caddy for that matter, does not and can not? Please note, I said nothing about art being "better" than sofas, only different, for quite frankly, I for one would not mind in the least settling in behind the wheel of a Caddy or this year's model of practically anything.

Clearly the point this brief essay is heading towards is that art does provide something special, and perhaps a way to describe that difference and that "good" is by describing a portion of my experience while at the recent opening of an art exhibition at the New Bedford Art Museum. Curated by two of the art faculty of U Mass, Dartmouth, Marge Puryear and Karen Doherty, the museum displayed the works of a couple of dozen superb artists working in fibers or clay. Art is the sort of thing that is created person by person, and is intended to strike the heart and mind, person by person, and so I will offer a very personal account of my visit. In so doing I believe that the good (actually only one good of many) that art offers to those who avail themselves of it, will be made apparent.

From www.peterlondon.us
After greeting several friends at the entrance and catching only a fleeting glance of the art and the hub bub of conversation, a woman approached who looked vaguely familiar (at my age everyone looks vaguely familiar). She introduced herself as a former student of some fifteen years back and after a few moments of surfing (is that the right expression?) my memory banks, I asked her if she had some work in the show. She did and she was pleased to bring me to it. In a corner gallery hung several of her works, they consisted- on first glance -of pieces of rather worn cloth, hung casually next to faded photographs. On closer inspection, I noticed that the worn fabric had been deliberately (?) tattered then re-woven in certain areas, creating a little conversation between the found thing and the newly created one. The draping of the cloth was not just casually hung but had a nice flow to it, like a gentle cascade or like the way long slightly wavy hair folds over one's shoulder. Looking closely at the faded photos, I looked into a tiny very quiet world of people now irreversibly changed by time's one-way arrow. It seemed that the cloth in front of me belonged to the people of the era of the photos. I was being rocked back and forth between the present and the past, not only of the artist's present and past and the present and past of the pieces before me, but this in turn induced a reverie in me about my present and my past, for I too have fading photos (but not memories) of my mom and dad, and I too still have a few remnants of the things they used. I asked the artist, my past student/my present companion, about her intentions for the work and indeed what I was seeing she had, more or less, thought of as the work unfolded. The people in the photos were her people, the memories of them wove their way into her life as she in turn wove and rewove the received fabric. These were little odes on the things that imparted meaning to her life.

And there it is. Every choice of fabric, every selected photograph from a thousand passed over, every portion of fabric left as she received it and every section re-woven, every folding, cutting, mounting, cropping, framing, every interval between forms, everything saturated with meaning. Everything itself and everything more than itself. A delight to the senses and a treat to the mind, a teasing up of memories and an invitation for imagination. Everything a pleasant thing to behold as pure form and color, and everything a pointing to broader and deeper and closer and finer things. Art comes in the form of objects, but it is always more than that object, it is at the same time an autobiography, a biography, a sociology, a general history, and a challenge for the viewer to include themselves -if they dare- in the picture.

This was just one piece in an exhibition of dozens of pieces of visual art, each one of which offering their own delight and adventures for the eye, mind and soul. And the visual arts are only one art form of many; what about music, theater, dance, poetry, that are constantly presented by our community of artists.

So, what good is art? A good that distinguishes itself from other goods. A work of art, even a modest one, is a thing saturated with as broad a spectrum of meanings- and satisfactions- as (almost) life itself. Hurly burly life, always unexpected, wondrous, a delight and a challenge, mysterious and yet satisfying, just like a good work of art.    

 ~ Peter London

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