Being a glassblower I have been continually challenged by the tension between ‘craft’ and ‘art’. The implication is, quite often, that if you make objects which are merely decorative, difficult to create, individual, and / or useful, you are not an ‘Artist’.
When I schlepped through Philosophy of Art many years ago I acquired many theories of aesthetics. Many years later I believe a very simple premise given my experience: Art changes me when I experience it, and great art (for me) changes me permanently. This is true in a host of different forms.
In two dimensions, I’m drawn to extremes, and have vivid memories of my encounters with them. From the softer life Monet dabbed out to the melting clocks of Dali to Escher’s cyclical impossibilities, I enjoy minds expressed in color and line. But the works that have most deeply affected me were both by Picasso.
Guernica, a town I only know as Spanish, and the setting for this painting. For many, many years I could not shake the image of a horse with a bomb in its throat. And at the other extreme, a simple two line nude. Both works have informed how I view the world for decades after I first saw images or the pieces themselves. One at the ornate nature of violence in all its excess and waste, the other at the simplicity and the expressiveness of four lines in which beauty can be contained. The implication of a mental image or cementing of an idea, shared or new. This is what art ‘means’ to me. And no, my work doesn’t belong with theirs. Yet; maybe someday I will believe it does. I hope someday I believe it does.
And thus we come to Glass. The first time I saw Chihuly’s work. I don’t remember the color, even, but I think it was blue. A giant tree of light. Now, many years later, I still try to recreate the childish sense of wonder I felt seeing it. While I feel Chihuly’s art is more visceral than intellectual, now that I am older, the reality is that he took a form bound to the ideas of a fantastically difficult Craft, and made it such a unique experience for so many he changed many, many people permanently. A tough feat, in a jaded world. But that is my standard for great art. We have plenty of great art, as Americans; it’s art that has changed us, pushed our boundaries, moved our lives. But I do not believe the purpose to which it has moved them is generally not individuality, strength, enhancement of the depth and color of our experiences.