As a senior at Brigham Young University- Idaho in the fine art department, all students are required to take the dreaded Readings class- a 400 level art theory class with two thick texts. For art students (who have a reputation for being the not-so-academic-type students taking “mickey-mouse” courses) studying centuries-worth of philosophies about art was not universally appealing. (By the way there were no “mickey mouse” courses in the department of fine art. There was no “A for effort.” On the contrary, there was stiff competition and if you didn’t put in the hours to master the techniques- if you couldn’t draw- you didn’t pass.)
As with any campus there were peer recommendations regarding which professor to take the class from, and who not to take the class from. As it turned out, the only section of this course which would fit into my schedule was the one not recommended by my peers. It was required for graduation so I told myself I could handle a difficult course, and that “boring” was just as much in the eyes of the beholder as is beauty. So I braced myself and signed up for the class. If it is at all a revelation of the nerd in me, I loved the class. I found it incredibly fascinating. Yes, it was a lot of work and time in preparation to keep up with the required readings, and the content was not light reading to study things like Aristotle’s theories of “what is art.” The ideology and enlightenment were completely worth the effort.
The classroom was a long narrow lecture hall. The professor would sarcastically refer to the sections of seats from the front to the back in terms of grades. He would say things like: “We’ve heard from all the A-students in front, let’s have a comment from one of the C-students toward the back.” It was painfully obvious when a student was unprepared, and I did not want that to be me. I didn’t sit in the front with the A-students. It was uncomfortable to crane my neck to look up at the professor and the blackboard. I sat near the middle, just close enough to remain an active part of the discussion. I quickly discovered that what I got out of the class was entirely dependent on what I put into it. This meant participating in the discussions as well as being prepared by having read the assigned readings.
As we discussed the different philosophies of art such as art as idea, art as process, art as expression, art as beauty, art as nature, and so on, we were exposed to these ideas through the writings of artists, historians and critics. I began to wonder about my own opinions. What was art to me? I agreed with many of these philosophies, but didn’t prescribe solely to any one of them like some artists did, advocating for the ideals which characterized the associated movement to which the artist’s work belonged.
As I pondered these things, I found my answer not in the words of an artist, but in the words of a man whom I believe to be a prophet of God. Deiter F. Uchtdorf, in an address to the women of the world, spoke about the divine act of creation. He said: “The desire to create is one of the deepest yearnings of the human soul… Creation brings deep satisfaction and fulfillment.” You can read more of his remarks here.
Jack Foster, in his book: How To Get Ideas, quotes James Webb Young (from his book, A Technique for Producing Ideas) stating: “An idea is nothing more nor less than a new combination of old elements.”
In his essay The Creative Mind, Jacob Bronowski (1908-1974) juxtaposed these two theories, art as creation and art as idea. He wrote: “…works of art are explorations…of a hidden likeness [between two unlike elements]… This is the act of creation, in which an original thought is born…”
I have discovered one of the joys of creating art is in sharing it with others who appreciate it. Bronowski advocates: “This view of the creative act… gives a meaning to the act of appreciation. In the moment of appreciation we live again in the moment when the creator saw and held the hidden likeness…we do not merely nod over someone else’s work. We re-enact the creative act, and we ourselves make the discovery again…and in the instant when the mind seizes this for itself, the heart misses a beat.”
You can read my Artist’s Statement here.