We expect poets and songwriters to draw upon their life experiences as they shape their craft. A song about heartbreak is impossible to write convincingly if one's heart has never broken. A poem about pain just doesn't ring true if the poet has never felt it. I remember an interview where Adele was asked if she had any good material left in her now that she was in love and expecting a child. She replied that she certainly hoped so, that it would be a shame to think she had nothing left to say just because she was happy.
As appreciators it is easy to decide whether written materials strike a magic chord of authenticity and "ring true to life." The audience (the consumer or customer) seems to know when the writing artist "gets it." And I think we get a gut feeling as to whether a singer is coming from that place of "been there" as well. But I rarely hear an audience of decorative arts discussing or even looking for that same degree of authenticity in paintings, pottery, glass or sculpture.
Perhaps it is because we are not trained to look for it? Or maybe we are rarely familiar enough with an artist's work to notice when it takes on a new flavor due to a life experience? I'm not sure of the answer but I have been thinking about it a lot lately.
My friend Patti of Linville River Pottery began a dreamscapes series last summer; an experimental way of crafting her clay with images in them done upside down (or backside front) in bowl shapes. Comforting scenes of trees and mountains and paths and little cottages came forth and I fell in love with them.
Here's a few, unglazed as yet:
I could picture myself in that little cottage, protected by the tree, surrounded by the calm side of nature; my soul rested in these pieces. But Patti's soul was in them first, it was her dream, her life that inspired the pieces that emerged. (And, for the record, she does live in a little cottage happily surrounded by trees and mountains). These expressions are Patti, they are authentic and the observer, even without thinking specifically about it, subconsciously believes the feelings evoked.
But life intervened. Patti's husband was in a life-threatening motorcycle accident on a lonely highway out west many airline miles away with no family nearby. This event began a long journey of medical, emotional, logistical, and physical stress for the couple. One they had to maneuver as a twosome without the proximity of friends or family. Life changing is an understatement and Patti's art, naturally, went to the back burner.
Forward to happier times: recovery well underway, back in their mountain bungalow and time to return to the studio although Patti is still a bit numb. I was anxious to see what would happen when she put clay in her hands. I expected a change, maybe a setback, maybe a few broken dishes, a lack of concentration or just some formless lumps while she found her groove. But, in her words,
"This new series wasn't a conscious plan; they just sort of formed themselves and I jumped aboard for the ride. After the ocean, waves, stars, boat/ark showed up, I enjoyed reading about each component in my Book of Symbols. I dearly love the way the unconscious winds its way into and out of our art..."
Amazing. Are you riding those waves? Do you ever remember being tossed around, feeling out of control and looking skyward to the stars grateful that they were still where they were supposed to be? That's authenticity. That's life informing art. Even if you did not know the story behind the feeling, you knew that something had provoked that feeling...it was not a copy of a "thing" because that "thing" sells well; it was/is the real McCoy. Heart on a platter. Soul bared.
As collectors of art we should look for this. We need to learn to read it, recognize it and try to understand it. We actually need to demand it...we must communicate that we "get it." When you "believe" a piece, when it is truly authentic, find out what is behind it, ask the artist to reveal the intent. You will get double the pleasure and learn a lot about how life informs art.