Thursday, March 4, 2010

What is Art....the pursuit of perfection

Those of us who make our living as artists are often so caught-up in what is widely acknowledged to be the world of so-called 'fine art', that it is easy to forget that there are other artists who are working in media that don't get much, or any, mainstream attention.

Since early hominids first learned to pick up objects and use them as tools and weapons decorating those tools, but most especially their weapons, has been a part of every culture world-wide. If you have ever visited the collections of arms and armor in major museums (the Metropolitan, for example, has a stunning collection)you know how much effort and skill has gone in to this most traditional art-form. At times, it has veered off into levels of embellishment that are downright gaudy, and sometimes it has become so pedantic that it is almost invisible. The endless English scrollwork on London best guns is like that. It is just so repetitive and relentless that it becomes an integral part of the metal and is seldom worthy of a second look.

But, there are gun engravers out there who pride themselves on their creativity and originality, and they have developed skills that are so difficult to master that one looks at the result and almost cannot imagine how it was accomplished. Many of these master engravers have enough work lined-up that their time is accounted for until they retire. Some are in such demand that the only hope of ever owning their work lies in finding a piece on the 'estate' market. If a dead shark in formaldehyde is worth $11 million on the open market, these pieces, at prices under a million, often mere hundreds of thousands, constitute a real value....the key word being 'real'.

When I look at the work of these artists, it jumps out in stark contrast to the entire modernist cesspit. All the Schnabels, Freuds, Savilles and their ilk are caught in the bright glare of the truth: they are purveyors of inane and unimportant ideas, feelings of disgust, annoyance and sadly cynical game-playing. Theirs is not the pursuit of perfection, but something profane and against the human instinct to hope, to allow for goodness and perfection, even against the tide of our times which seems to be so negative and chaotic. They are aligning themselves with all the negativity and their work is just a form of piling on. Who needs it? I have a deep-seated sense that, ultimately, history will look back on their work as being infantile and idiotic. Time has a way of putting things into perspective.

Just the simple fact that the work of these engravers was conceived and executed with the goal of being as utterly perfect as the human mind and hand are capable of creating, transmits a feeling that buoys my spirit. I know one of the engravers whose work is pictured here, Steve Lindsay, personally, and to hold one of his engraved knives in one's hand is to experience a feeling that you are holding something precious and fine. It has nothing to do with the monetary value; it has to do with the energy that he has poured into the piece. Hundreds of hours, peering through a binocular microscope as he carefully chisels, peens, scrapes and even creates texture by making pin-point dots, all become a reservoir of palpable energy that is available to the viewer/holder.

This is just one more example of art that was made with consummate skill, loving care and a great deal of purity of effort. It is not merely 'fine art' it is 'heart art'.

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