Art and About
Engaging with the creative force in everyday life

October 27th, 2008

Art Crisis Resolved

Posted by christina in Web Columns

At my last posting, I was agonizing over the definition of art and my own hypocrisy regarding that definition. In my cliff hanger ending to my column, I was staring at two blank canvases thinking that my art, or any art created by my family, wouldn’t be good enough to justify displaying in prominent parts of the home. I am happy to report that one Saturday, I put one canvas in front of myself and one in front of my daughter and we just jumped in and made art. Neither of us knew where we were going to go with it, but as the day ticked by, we filled our canvases and both felt satisfied with the results. As with any good art relationship, I have come to enjoy the pieces we made more and more each day and I wonder why I ever felt stifled by the prospect of making them.

However, my feelings toward art purchased at Home Goods continued to plague me for months. Many times, Oprah has said that when the Universe wants to teach you something, it will keep sending you lessons until you learn it. The first lesson might feel like a pebble hitting you on the side of the head, but if you don’t learn from it, then the next lesson will feel more like a rock. It will escalate to a brick, a wall and so on until an entire metaphorical house falls on you, if that’s what it takes to get your attention.

Generally, I have found this to be true and it certainly was true regarding this art crisis. The barrage of lessons came over a number of weeks as I tried to creatively punch up our landscaping without spending a fortune on tearing up a crumbling patio or buying a lot of new plants. Once again, a solution blindsided me at Home Goods when I spotted two separate sculptures of metal frogs playing instruments. I immediately saw that I could build a little stage area off to one side of the yard and have the five frogs that comprised the sculptures serenading that corner of the garden — a fun and unexpected vignette to add a mini focal point within the middle of the hardscape.

As I was buying the frogs, the Home Goods cashier commented, “Somebody like frogs.” I responded that I had no idea I did until I saw these amphibious musicians. He quipped, “It’s amazing what we convince people they have to have.” I appreciated his commentary on marketing and out-of-control consumerism, but his words struck even deeper for me because once again, I was investing in handcrafted, made-in-China merchandise and responding to it like art.

(Before I go on, I have to tell you that I hesitated to write this column, and have once again delayed doing timely postings, because I wasn’t sure how to handle the political ramifications of mentioning all this stuff about China. I am not intending to be commenting on the artistry or workmanship of items made in China, on the business practices in China, labor policy in China, or on the import practices of the United States. I am intending to use the items from China that I am buying as a symbol of the inexpensive, mass-produced, imported goods that I am surprisingly responding to as art.)

The frog band vignette came together and I started to envision mini art scenes hidden around corners all over the garden. Over a series of about 10 weeks, I made trips to Home Goods and its neighbor, T.J. Maxx and found 12 more art pieces, all from China, to display in my garden. There were groups of dancers, there were other bands of musicians, and there were music symbols and instruments. All of them made of metal, none of them intended for outdoor use and most of them costing no more than $10. Every week I was surprised to find items within my theme newly stocked on the shelves. I fancied that the buyers for T.J. Maxx and Home Goods were thinking, “Wow, we have a real market for cheap, metal, music-themed sculpture.”

Every week, I hesitated about adding one more piece of questionable art to my garden. I would get a pit in my stomach and my heart would race. I would almost dread walking into the store for fear they would actually have more sculpture and I would have to deliberate once again on purchasing it. But my curiosity compelled me to enter as I wondered how long the supply could possibly last, and I always knew right where I would put the new additions. Each one added another layer of irresistible charm to our outdoor living space.

When my daughter’s gymnastics session ended, I no longer had reason to go to the Home Goods/T.J. Maxx shopping center and my expeditions stopped. I was quite relieved because I was weary of the conflict between my stubbornly held definition of art and my obvious disregard for that definition by my actions over three months.

The family spent many hours over the summer playing and relaxing alongside our new sculptures. Visitors would delight in walking through the garden and discovering a new vignette in unexpected places. Children who visited would touch the sculptures and go searching in and around flowers and bushes to find more. I enjoyed pruning plants to stay just clear of the vignettes so the sculptures appeared as artistic oases among the foliage. I also started to imagine what the winter garden would look like once the plants are trimmed far back and the sculpture becomes the focal star until spring arrives again.

Like any successful adoption, I have stopped thinking about where the art came from or how much it cost, and now love it because of what it is and what is stands for. It was a long and painful lesson, but the simple truth is not earth shattering or original — if you love the piece, then it is art. The determination comes from your heart and soul, not your brain. Engaging with the creative force in everyday life means being open to it in any form, without bias. And in one of life’s more unexpected twists, I find myself grateful for large, discount retailers and for China.

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