Sunday, January 9, 2011

Curator's Talk for Telling Tales and Mixing Metaphors

Telling Tales and Mixing Metaphor
s, a show I curated, opened on January 7th. at the Danville Art Galley. I gave the following talk that evening.
I chose these works for three reasons: First, each piece tells me a story I need to hear; Second, each piece is beautiful and; Third, I thought that if they were all in one place they might tell a bigger story together than they do separately.

Critics and art historians talk about what art is but artists, when they consent to talk, talk about what art-making is. There are a number of artists in this room and each one would probably have something different to say about the nature of art-making. However, since I curated this show, I get to say what I think first. I think art-making is story telling.

Telling stories is universal to humankind and there is some reason to believe that this fact is rooted in the structure of our brains. Studies of those who have suffered brain- injuries show that, when an injury causes someone to lose the ability to construct and understand a narrative, that individual becomes unable to maintain a sense or image of self. This seems to indicate that, if you ask me who I am and I say “I am an artist”, I am telling you the conclusion of an internal story. If I lose my capacity to track that story, I lose my capacity to answer your question.

Stories tell me who I am, who we are together, what the world is. Stories are part of the way that human beings form and maintain a sense of community. A community can be seen as a collection of interwoven stories, told in every possible way--conversations, plays, actions, architecture, art. The storyteller and the listener are changed by each story told. Communities need new stories and new perspectives on old stories in order to stay vibrant. Visual art can portray aspects of the human story that are hard to put into words give new insight into old tales.

Maat by Tricia Grame
Up this ramp you will see four paintings by Tricia Grame that address some old tales, old stories about women and about spirituality. She has taken in these old stories and given them back with new meaning.

Black Ice by Kirk Brooks
The artist takes in experience, sorts it, reconstructs it and gives it a shape. All of the artists in this show have used their experiences to build, elaborate and refine a world inside themselves. When they are painting, pasting, constructing or photographing, they stand on a threshold between that inner world and this outer world, trying to make some part of their internal narrative visible.

On this wall and up the ramp you see two abstract paintings by Kirk Brooks. What story is he trying to give shape to with these brushstrokes? Something about the emotion he was feeling when he painted? Something about the gloriousness of color? Perhaps a little something about growing up with a Father who was a painter?

We participate in the artist’s narrative. All story-telling is participatory--you must have a teller and a listener. Art is participatory--you must have a maker of art and a viewer. When a piece of art works for you, it draws you in, it evokes feeling, you become a part of the story of the piece. In that moment the interaction between the artist’s act of making art and your act of responding to the art produces a new piece of art, something unique that may only last for the moment that you stand and look.

Judy Shintani's Elderly in America, foreground
The first time I saw Judy Shintani’s “Elderly in America” I was overcome with a feeling of poignant loss, a feeling intimately connected to the fact that my brother’s mother-in-law, a woman I grew up with, died at 98 on Christmas Day. Today I looked at the same piece and saw instead a story about bravery, perhaps because I always wonder, before a talk, if I will have the courage to talk to a room full of strangers.

Good works of art do not force meanings on the viewer; meaning emerges, adds up, and unfolds. With the best work the viewer is moved through a process of discovering meaning.
Floating World, Priscilla Otani
With some art the process of discovering meaning flows and with some the process needs more of your attention and insight. Some of the art work in this show is generous with its story. Not everyone here will see the same story in a piece like this (Priscilla Otani’s "Lost Face") but I think that almost everyone will readily find a narrative thread in it. On the other hand, the same artist gives us “Floating World” a piece that is more demanding, both visually and intuitively. The intentions of a piece like this seem mysterious. It gives us the feeling that it is telling us a number of overlapping stories.

I will finish with a quote from Maya Angelou “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” That is very true but, I would add, speaking of my own art-making, that there is no greater joy than to have told a good story.

Tanya Wilkinson

Tanya Wilkinson