Friday, April 27, 2012

ESSAY: Thoughts About Living With Art

Vermont Art Zine welcomes essays by and about art and artists. This narrative by Alice Eckles muses about what artwork was in her family home, and how she was influenced by that environment. If you'd like to share some perspectives about living with art, and what makes people collect and live with art, send your thoughts (and an image) to one of the editors.

Art at Home
by Alice Eckles
April 7, Saturday, the day before Easter, Fort Scott Kansas, my parents' house. I look around me and it is a house of art and memory. What kind of museum is this place I used to call home? My parents have collected a lot of art, but I wouldn't call them art collectors. The art they choose to decorate their home is mainly made by friends or relatives, or perhaps was bought as a souvenir from a fun experience, vacation memories. Even the toilet paper holder is a piece of art, made by a once local potter in Fort Scott. It features a bird, curls of blue glaze, cut always to show where the sky would be.

I never thought the work of this potter was that great. But it is after all only a toilet paper roll holder. This artist also made piggy banks. I remember her vaguely from my teen years growing up here. She was a rare example of someone in this small midwestern town who was interested in the same sort of things I was, art. Certainly I prefer while on my visit back "home" to be surrounded by reminders such as this. Yet while I lived here I simply thought, well it's not exactly fine art, it's not like any great breakthrough in creativity. It's just cutesy I thought.

Now in the process of settling in my own small town in Vermont where I find there are many more people interested in artsy things, I think maybe I understand my parents’ collection more. I hate to be so dense but I guess it's a sentimental collection. In fact the bulk of it is my own artwork, my sister’s artwork, and my grandmother’s paintings and my grandfather’s photographs. In 2010 I stopped making visual art and focused solely on writing as my art form. Anyway, now that I am setting down roots in my own small town I understand that you start to love the art of the artists in your geographic area, not necessarily because their art is great, or because they are geniuses, but because they are yours, and you make them great by the way you find a place for them in your heart and in your home. That's what I think when I think of the ceramic artisan-made toilet paper holder with the blue bird on it.

My parents, both of them, are very good at incorporating this "found" art in the most decorative and pleasing way.  What I mean is they have found artists in their family, among their friends, and in their community.

Framing artwork has never been of any interest to me. My parents have made an art of framing the works on paper I have mailed off to them through the years though. An artist never gets paid what they should, yet I never mind sending my art to my parents, no charge. I owe them so much  that it feels like I am getting paid when I give art to them. At least it soothes my indebtedness... Does that make sense? Probably not. I think there is something about trying to be an artist in the world that warps your mind. Maybe that is part of why I stopped making art. Though I always say the reason is because I wanted to simplify my life. Visual art requires deep involvement in the material world, whereas writing, not so much.

Speaking of great art, I remember once, I must have been about 16, I was teaching my first art class to kindergartners and I had, through my dad, acquired a large amount of colored sticker paper, the kind they use to customize cars. What happened teaching my first kindergarten art class at age 16 is another story, but I made a great piece of art with those materials.

I was feeling very bold. I said to myself I am going to make a great piece of art, just like Picasso with these stickers. And I tore them up and arranged them on a long white vertical piece of paper. The final work featured an angular silver spiral on top of blue and ochre squares, and there were a select few blue dots here and there. I titled it "untitled" with some roman numerals after it, and signed it with a grand artistic sounding name I had made up. I thought it was great. I thought I had hit the top. [NOTE: When writing this essay I described this piece from memory. When I dug it up I saw that it was a bit different than I remembered, and it also brought back memories of the inspiration of this "painting" and why I so fiercely felt it was great. It was inspired by my felt memories of New Orleans, a great place, where I grew up until the age of seven or eight. New Orleans has always been dear in my heart. With this art I hold on to that, and my belonging with that greatness, that I never wanted to leave back when I was a child.]

My parents have always believed in being humble, and they would not concede, especially my mom I remember, that this work was really as great as anything Picasso had ever done. I made a big stink about this while my sister was playing on the piano, demanding recognition for my genius. My mother wouldn't have it though. No matter how I argued and tried to draw her attention to the fact of my genius, she said that she simply did not care for that piece very much. The argument escalated, meanwhile my dear little sister tried to practice her piano lesson.

My little sister, I should mention, is a genius. She actually made up her own songs on the piano. She had been doing it since she was five. Whereas my piano teacher suggested I quit. Finally my mother grabbed a drawing of mine off the wall and tore it up, saying "this is what you are doing to your sisters music." Of course she was right. The gesture was very informative.  I responded at the time the way any teenager would. I took my masterpiece and stormed upstairs to my room to sulk for an indefinite period of time.

To this day the masterpiece is undiscovered by my mother and the masses, stashed in a huge heavy oak file for architecture drawings that is currently in storage at a friend's house.

I'm not sure I've matured much when it comes to visual art. It helps though that I've given up visual art at least for a time, and that I am beginning to set roots in my own small town. By appreciating the artists near me, in the place where I live, I think I can begin to grow up.

Images: Toilet Paper Holder; Adele Dawson's painting and an Encaustic by Alice Eckles in box; 
Composition IIIVX; painting by Ruth Eckles

Update on my last article on Art Theft in Vermont:
The Benefit Event for Kerry Furlani at the Ilsley Library in Middlebury is postponed till a Friday Art walk at end of May or the beginning of June. Please feel free to contact Alice if you would like to help in the planning,, or 802-310-9364 for instance if you are a musician and would like to offer to play at the event, or if you are a good organizer and fundraiser and would like to help that way, or if you would like to help provide snacks, or if you have  something to share on this topic of art theft you might want to present. Thank you.