November 11, 2003

Getting Comfortable with Unassuming Art

Filed under: Art and About Recycling — admin @ 9:23 pm

I approached the art show, “Street Chic: Reuse, Recycling and Art in Action” with quite a bit of apprehension. In celebration of America Recycles Day, the Shadelands Art Center in Walnut Creek had an exhibit last week of original art made from discarded materials some artisans from the East Bay Depot for Creative Reuse salvaged after the Reuse and Cleanup Days in Central Contra Costa County. The Reuse and Cleanup Day in my neighborhood is one of my favorite days of the year when I liberate my family from unused items and clutter. I donated a large pile of sundry objects last year and with great satisfaction, I watched the truck take them away.

But there I was, nervously walking into the art show. For some reason, I didn’t want to come face to face with any of my own discarded stuff. When I give something away, I like to imagine it going on to a better life in the hands of someone who has a use for it. But actually seeing what that better life may be was somehow unsettling. What if my ex-stuff looked at me accusingly with betrayal in its eyes? I knew the odds of actually seeing something I had donated were astronomically small, but I had to be prepared for a confrontation if I did.

As soon as I walked into the show, I was relieved at two levels. First, I immediately could see nothing formerly owned by me. Second, the exhibit wasn’t avant-garde, interpretative art pieces where a tin can and a man’s suit are united with rivets in a statement about the industrial era. In fact, had the titles of the pieces not been in front of the art, I may have mistaken some of it for lobby furniture at the art center. For the most part, it was an exhibit celebrating the revival of everyday functional objects. The phrase which Dickens uses to title the first section of “A Tale of Two Cities” came to mind. The chairs, bench, shelving unit, screen and birdcage that comprised the exhibit had been “recalled to life.”

I came away a little underwhelmed, and more than a little hypocritical. I strongly espouse finding art in everyday life, but when I see an art exhibit full of chairs and shelves, it feels a little too much everyday.

While examining this hypocrisy, I remembered my freshman college roommate and her struggle to declare a major. She was a painter, but came to school planning to major in engineering. Her academic advisor suggested she consider product design because it fused art with the skill set of engineering. For those of us who watched objectively from the sidelines, product design was a perfect match for her. But my roommate had trouble resolving that artistic perspective and practicality needn’t be mutually exclusive. It took three years of soul searching, but in the end she became a product designer. And a happy one.

I came home from street chic and looked at the objects in my home which I have chosen to represent my style and taste. The entertainment armoire with the dentiled detail. The no-nonsense lines of my glider. The high stature of our captain’s pedestal bed. Somebody once held a pencil or a computer mouse and translated an idea from their brain onto a sheet of paper to communicate their creative inspiration for a piece of furniture. Then one day I saw that furniture and decided it was something I wanted to share my life with. The designer and I communicated through their work. That heart to heart communication is the essence of art and makes the designer an artist in my book.

I realized that art doesn’t necessarily have to wow us. It can be as comfortable and unassuming as a favorite couch. In fact, that’s the way it should be if we invite art into our everyday lives.

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