Archive for August 17th, 2008

Since I bought the Bill Reid banner last week, I’ve been thinking a lot about living with art. I pass the banner several dozen times a day, and, at just under two by one meters with a powerful design, it constantly catches the eye.

My first conclusion about living with art is that it’s not a possessive thing – at least, not for me. I don’t gleefully exclaim to myself “Mine!” when I see it, or even the more proper, “Ours!” Nor do I think that I’ve made a good investment, or how much the banner might increase in value over the years, because I have absolutely no intention of selling it.

So far as I can tell, I would get the same pleasure if I was undertaking an extended stay in a hotel room that included the banner, or if it was simply on loan. It’s being around a work of art that is important to me, not who owns it.

My chief reaction is a feeling of being privileged to see the banner every day. Having my aesthetic appreciation stirred several times a day is an intense feeling. It relaxes me and leaves me content in a way that very few other things do. Great art (by which I mean art that is skillfully done and more than just giving people what they think they want, not simply art made by someone that consensus classifies as a great artist) has a purity of intent that contrasts strongly with the everyday world. Like learning, it’s above the petty corruptions and compromises that we usually just accept without questioning. It has a sustaining quality that arbitrary, constant-changing fashion can never have. Its excellence is the best of us, and I am quickly becoming convinced that we are better for living with such art. Or, at least, I am.

Another benefit of living with art is that you get a chance to see how an artist works. When you see art in a gallery or in a book, you rarely have time to pinpoint why you react the way you do. But when you see a piece every day, you start to appreciate it in much greater detail.

For instance, after a week of living with the banner, I now understand that Reid was a meticulous planner, and that his designs not only frequently have a geometric pattern in them (such as triangles whose corners consist of similar shapes or a certain number of objects such as feathers), but also are constantly playing symmetry against asymmetry – a contrast that seems utterly fitting for an artist who is at once working in a tradition and with modern concepts of design. For years, I’ve been spell-bound by Bill Reid’s work, but until now I never noticed these characteristics of his work.

Of course, I don’t claim that one piece teaches me everything about his work, or that I have discovered everything about this particular work – especially not in seven days. But I know more about his work than I did, and now I understand more about his style and his design sense, as well as that of other artists in the same tradition. By living with the piece, I know a little more than I have previously done, and I look forward to learning more.

Living with art, I’ve decided, is one of the great civilized pleasures of the world, like an unexpectedly fine beer or wine or discovering a superb restaurant. It’s also a pleasure that I’ve mostly overlooked for a number of years and that I plan to pursue from now on as much as a limited budget allows.

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