TurkoTek Discussion Boards

Subject  :  Art As Decoration?????
Author  :  Sophia Gates
Date  :  08-03-2000 on 11:06 p.m.
Thanks to all for another fascinating discussion. Like Jerry, I too find a great deal to agree with in Sam's thesis, and found myself thinking about it this afternoon while I wrassled with a painting. Whoa - thinking about Sam's ideas while struggling with my own? What is this? Impurity in the creative process? Maybe - but I think it's just another illustration about the complexity of making - and appreciating - art. The mind functions on many levels - some on the level of the animal, the deep instincts to fight or flee or love or mate - or in the human animal the basic desire to create, to make things, to use his mind and agile hands together to solve problems, make things beautiful, vanquish an enemy. It is this level I think Sam refers to when he says a rug attracts on a visceral level - and no doubt its creator felt some of that visceral joy herself, at some point or at many points throughout its creation. This deep level can cut across cultural or political or religious differences, even sexual difference, and calls to us as humans - the use of certain archtypal forms, proportional harmonies like the Golden Mean, reverberative color combinations which always act on the retina in a certain way - and I have to agree with Sam that certain works of art arrest us in just that way. I was shown an image of a Turkish prayer rug last evening, a fine, splendidly drawn piece with evocative form - and its beauty shone through even in the sadly degraded medium of a small jpeg image. Here, you see, I have to disagree with Sam, that "god" isn't part of this process - for me, "god" IS creativity, for humans our means of survival, and certain rugs, like certain paintings or certain pieces of music, have a grandeur and scope and depth of perception that speaks to us, that resonates within us, like Beethoven's Ninth, that reminds us of the hugeness of our universe and the heartbursting joy and beauty of our lives, whether we be ant or peartree or king. And some, not by any means ALL artists, are trying hard to express this ineffable - wholeness. Here, though, I must say I agree with Marla as well, and here I pick up the thread of my original seemingly scattered thoughts - the process of communicating these ideas, great or small, is hardly all emotional - many painters, thinking that Jackson Pollock's work would be easy to imitate, being after all a simple matter of emotionally throwing paint, have found out to their sorrow that they have managed only to make a mess! If cerebral exercise helps the viewer to more greatly appreciate the work of art, be it rug or painting, so cerebral effort aids in its creation. I wrote about this earlier today, privately to Marla, while the process was still fresh in my mind, of how it's a matter of emotional give and intellectual take between the artist and the art, a dance between emotional fervour and technical expertise, between heart and mind, passion and skill. This is the only way a piece can be produced which will speak to other people, indeed without intellect and skill nothing can be produced at all! For example - try making a rug without a loom! But more to the point: let's say you're at the stage with your textile, or painting, when it's looking pretty good and expressing pretty much what you wanted it to say. At that point, you step back, examine it coolly, and ask yourself - how can I make this good thing great? How can I make this good thing better, make it really sing? Now the intellect steps in, examining one possibility after another until finally the purely technical detail clicks - of course, the piece has as a secondary color a great deal of red violet - so to really set that off I shall add a bit of yellow green in the details - the compliment of red violet - and the piece is that one step further along to being "finished" - being able to carry the message, born in one heart, to other minds and other hearts. And here I must raise my final point - oh dear - DECORATION????? Is the Guenica DECORATION? Is Beethoven's Ninth ELEVATOR MUSIC???? Elgar, OK, drives me nuts. ELGAR, with apologies to his myriad fans, I can accept as DECORATIVE MUSIC. But BEETHOVEN? Mahler? MICK JAGGER??? Because here, you see, I must raise the flag in honor of USELESS ART: Art is not just the business of creating pretty surfaces! Of course the surface may be pretty, must grab the audience by the eyes or the mind or the heart or the balls, but that's only step one! At best, art must have something to say - and that's what we're trying to learn from our rugs, why we try to decipher the Turkoman guls, or spend countless hours reading about Islam, or even just studying the history of our own culture. Because you're ALL right, Sam and Jerry and Marla et.al. - first it's got to grab you, but then YOU have to learn to read its language. And baby, if it's just wallpaper - well, what can I say. Don't spend TOO much money on it! Thunderbird@21stcentury.net

Subject  :  RE:Art As Decoration????? (Sure, sometimes)
Author  :  Steve Price
Date  :  08-04-2000 on 06:36 a.m.
sprice@hsc.vcu.edu Dear Sophia, There, I've caught my breath after reading your post a couple of times. It's a great example of artistic/intellectual fusion in the art of writing expressively, by the way. Is art decoration? Sometimes. Is that all it is? Not if it's good art. One other point. "Decoration" is used in several senses in Rugdom, and this may have confounded things a bit. One use, the one to which you refer, is "making things pretty." But another is "anything added to a plain surface", or "embellishment", a common application of the word rug-wise. When a Turkmen weaver adds a bunch of guls to the field of a juval, those guls are decoration in this sense, independently of whether the guls are (or are meant to be) pretty, totemic, protective, heraldic, etc. Regards, Steve Price

Subject  :  RE:Art As Expression and as Possible Idolatry
Author  :  R. John Howe
Date  :  08-04-2000 on 07:17 a.m.
Dear folks - Sophia has shared here one of her richly conceived, well-stated posts. Without really debating anything she has said, let me make two comments that were triggered by my reading of it. First, she talks about art as communication and there is clearly a great deal of it that is that. And it may well be that most if not all rug art falls into that category. There are, however, some artists who claim to be interested primarily in personal expression and who claim to do their art without any real thought of or concern for an audience. I have often found this claim suspect since I notice that such folks still display their work where others can see it and talk about it quite a bit. Nevertheless, such artists exist. Second, and perhaps for some more potentially serious for us ruggies is a concern that in raising the virtues of "creativity" and in glorifying Art, one may both seem to claim that the artist is god-like and to verge onto some species of idolatry. This second concern is apparently the source of the Islamic prohibition of the representation of living creatures in art. In glorifying the "creativity" of the artist, they felt there was the suggestion that the artist had taken on attributes reserved only to god. So precisely the "creativity" that Sophia so admires is abhorred in some quarters on religious grounds. (As an aside I should recall a recent book on Islamic painting that I encounterd in which the author claimed that this prohibition is every bit as stern amongs Shiites as among Sunni Muslims in Persia.) This instance provides evidence against the liklihood that a "formalist" conception of art (that our perceptions of aesthetic quality are "hard-wired") is correct, since it suggests that Sophia's admiration of human creativity (and the Muslim denigration of it) are both shaped by the respective cultures. The idolatry concern is somewhat harder to explain accessibly. My take on it is roughly that in raising art to the level of Art, there is a danger of elevating mere objects above our concern for humanity and of turning them into idols, so to speak. There is a great deal of talk about idolatry in the Bible and in Jewish religious literature. The novelist and essayist, Cynthia Ozick, whose work I admire a lot, (read her essays on "Art and Ardor"), often warns about idolatry in literature in her writings. I think she would agree that there can be a parallel danger in rug art. Perhaps this gives potentially new and richer meaning to the term "prayer rug." Just two thoughts triggered by what Sophia has written here. Regards, R. John Howe

Subject  :  RE:Art As Decoration?????
Author  :  Sophia+Gates
Date  :  08-04-2000 on 12:52 p.m.
Wow! A couple of great responses. Steve, your point is well-taken, and articulate as always. But John has raised some amazing concepts which I hadn't considered, and which I think are worthy of discussion. Any theological experts out there? Meanwhile, a couple of thoughts: I'm Jewish and have been studying Islam lately although more in the historical/geopolitical sense, so I've more or less "grown up" with the proscription against idolatry. Here I must add that at the age of 10 or so my dad, fearful that horses were my one and only love and interest, took me to see "Ben-Hur" and bought me some books on Greco-Roman mythology, at which point I promptly became a pagan. This of course solved rather neatly the problem of Breaking A Major Commandment. Seriously - the concept of "God" in the monotheistic religions is, in its purest form, so powerful and abstract that it can't even be named, let alone imitated. Still, it's possible that some artists think they're Godlike, especially if that entitles them to get somebody else to cook & do their laundry. No - wait a second - I'm having trouble being serious this morning. Let me try again: I do not think that any reasonable person thinks he/she is godlike because she enjoys the process of making art. I think this makes her more human, not more godlike! Trust me - the ability to mix ultramarine blue and alizarin crimson and come up with a nice purple is not the same as making stars! If anything, I think our humble efforts make us more profoundly aware of our small and precarious position in the world, and art/Art is, if anything, a celebration of the grandeur of the unknown as well as an attempt to keep the balance - humanity is balanced on a razor's edge, and artists of all people know this. It is no accident that ritual art seeks to both to honor the unknowable AND the balance - it is tradition in this context which is thought to maintain the balance, and I suppose in this context The Artist As Creator, i.e., possibly A Rebellious Person, can be seen as a threat. In fact, artists/creative people throughout history have quite happily assumed the role of Rebellious Person, quite deliberately setting themselves at odds with social or belief systems which have sought to corral people's minds. Viewed in this light, I think the proscriptions against idolatry had another agenda, and that was/is political. Islam, for example, was at war with its neighbors from day one. Literally before the ink had dried on the scrolls The Prophet was charging into battle - battle against outside forces who still believed in animism, paganism, Ishtar, Zoroaster, etc., but also perhaps in another sense: people who were individualists, who sought to think for themselves (i.e., be "creative"?) I realize I'm speculating here - please do not think I'm making a value judgement about any one religion in particular, but rather about ANY traditional system in which spiritual concerns are linked to brute force. Humans have survived because we are creative - and unfortunately our creativity has also given us insights into physics and technology which could well end our tenure in this universe. Our intelligence has proven to be a double-edged sword indeed! Graven images are the least of our worries - I wonder if the ancients had some inkling of where our tinkering would lead, and made the wisdom tree a metaphor for humanity's fall from grace/ascent from animal innocence? Thinking itself is the great conundrum for Homo Sapiens! Yet NotThinking as evinced in wholly traditional cultures, where sandpaintings are thought to come alive and ritual rules all, hasn't worked out too well either - and that's the "idolatry" against which The Nameless warned - in my opinion. The Nameless was warning not against individual creativity or even against the simple making of images - but rather against the worship of patterns, patterns set in stone or woven into fabrics or even embodied in social codes. Worshipping patterns rather than the idea of the highest potential - in other words, it's ok to MAKE patterns, just not to believe in them! Because the very nature of the universe is change, people MUST be free to think, to create, in order to stay alive. Whew. That was a lot to bite off first thing in the AM. But hopefully there's food for thought here? Thank you John! More ideas?

Subject  :  RE:Art As Decoration?????
Author  :  Sam Gorden\
Date  :  08-04-2000 on 02:54 p.m.
gordsa@earthlink.net Dear All. As I celebrate my ninetieth birthday today, I wish to thank all who have particpated in the discussion regarding the importance of emotions in art creativity. It is certain that I have learned a great deal from your responses. I repeat "The more I learn, the more I know how little I know!" I have just received "Art As Decoration?????" by Sophia Gates and I take this opportunity to congratulate her on her posting. I enjoyed reading it! All the best to all of you! Sam

Subject  :  RE:Art As Decoration?????
Author  :  R. John Howe
Date  :  08-08-2000 on 08:14 a.m.
Dear Sophia et al - I feel a little guilty about throwing out potentially controversial points and then abandoning them. I am not trained as a theologian although I bear the hallmarks of someone who grew up in and escaped from Protestant fundamentalism and in my variously disparate college days I hung out, perhaps dysfunctionally, with some philosophers. So while I am familiar with many such issues, I can get out of my depth quickly and in fact may not have much more to add to the points I have raised than the things I said in raising them. But a couple of things Sophia said in her generous response attracted my attention. Sophia, I like very much your sentence "Trust me - the ability to mix ultramarine blue and alizarin crimson and come up with a nice purple is not the same as making stars!" I think this is true but I also think it is too easy, in the sense that it accentuates the literal and deflects attention from the symbolic which may be the more fundamental level to examine. Artists take their work seriously. SERIOUSLY!!! For many of them, it is life itself, and sometimes more than life. I was acquainted for awhile with a lady who wrote short stories for The New Yorker. I sometimes asked her how she worked. She described it as a kind of trance that she didn't fully understand herself. She went into a kind of spell in which (she was also a devout intellectual Catholic) she felt that she was God's instrument for speaking Truths. (And her writing was not religious at all.) I kidded her that her description denigrated the skills of the writer but elevated the writer's connections dramatically. So at least this artist did see a relationship between her acts of creation and God. Her writing was for her god-like since she saw herself as God's instrument. I think this picture of creation would trouble many Islamic theologians deeply. And Ozick has convinced me that the danger of various species of idolatry are quite real. There are many aspects of life that can and are in our society often raised to a level where they are at least in danger of surplanting our valuing of our fellow human beings and of our joint humanity. It doesn't have be art or even Art, it can be money or Little League baseball or rugs. As a not really related aside, it occurs to me just now that the dangers of idolatry might be especially great in what we call "developing" societies, since in many of them human life and human beings are not yet established as a high value. I know an old retired "spy" here in town who is also a ruggie and who gave an interesting answer to me when I challenged him once to name any way in which he believed that the U.S. had exterted a positive influence on developing societies in world. He said that he thought that our spread of "soap opera" was such an influence. He said that soap opera introduced functionally into many traditional societies the notion that human life was valuable (why else all the anguish about the way life was proceding?), something often not well previously established. There, I cannot be as brilliantly discursive as Sophia, but at least I can be discursive. Regards, R. John Howe

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