Season on Flourishing – Art

This is week one of the Season on Flourishing.

There are endless debates about what constitutes art – as if being art were some mysterious property that some objects had and others did not. As soon as someone defines artistic boundaries, though, someone else comes along and produces art which defies that definition. I think there is a reason for this. I think art is best understood, not as a noun, but as a verb. Rather than delineating the set of artistic objects, we should be thinking about relating to the world in an artistic way and cultivating artistic experiences. Specifically, I think relating to the world artistically is to see things in a non-practical way. Seeing things in a practical way is to appreciate their usefulness. Relating to things in an artistic way is to appreciate them for the immediate pleasure they afford. To look at a desk and think about how many things you can put on it is to appreciate that desk practically. To look at a desk and appreciate its color or shape is to appreciate that desk artistically. To eat and conceive of your food as nourishment is to relate to that food practically. To eat and revel in the taste of your food is to experience it artistically (it should be clear from these examples that we can relate to things in both ways at once). Standard art objects – pictures, pieces of music, etc. – are easy to relate to in an artistic way, but we should not think that they are the only things which are amenable to such artistic experience. How do you live life more artistically? Cultivate a practice of being more aware of what is around you. As you are walking down the street, turn your attention to the green of the grass and the blue of the sky. Think even of the chill in the air as a particular experience to be savored. That is living artistically.

So is making your own art.

The key here is to enjoy the process of creation. Don’t worry too much about the quality of the product. Make what you like making and don’t feel constrained to traditional art forms – Try a new recipe? That’s art. Put on a new outfit? Art. Be flexible and see where the experience takes you. Then, set whatever you have made aside. You will appreciate different aspects of it after you get some distance from it. If you want ideas about where to start or help making things, try these great resources:

● Instructables.com is a smorgasbord of interesting DIY projects with helpful step-by-step explanations. If you can think of it, it is probably on there. Craftster.org has great plans for “crafty” projects like clothing and papercrafts.

● Want to try your hand at singing? Here is a guide from the BBC with lots of practical advice for beginners.

● Want to make your own music on your computer? Check out this FAQ to figure out where to begin and then download this free software to make it happen.

● Dance. Turn on some music, close the blinds, and just do it. Or go to a club, if that’s more your scene. If you’re not sure how to start, check out this fun, helpful video explaining the two-step.

● Start thinking about National Novel Writing Month (in November). It’s a long ways off, but it is a wonderfully supportive community and is well worth waiting for if your interest has been piqued by Art Week.

You can also engage with art other people made.

The first step is to just watch and enjoy. You don’t necessarily need specialized knowledge to appreciate art and you shouldn’t let complicated art forms intimidate you or stop you from starting. If you want some ideas for where to start or want to come to a greater appreciation of some particular art form, here are some resources.

World Poetry Day was this past Sunday the 21st. Check out the Poetry Daily website. They post one poem a day. These poems are of various styles, from both well-known and lesser-known poets, and they are all of high quality. Also, National Poetry Month is coming up in April. Poets.org has a fantastic list of ways to engage with the month, from a poster to political action and, of course, poetry.

● If music is more your speed, you can learn more about it by training your ear or by exploring the world of music theory. You can also listen to the delightful symphonic piece “Peter and the Wolf.” It is a half-hour piece written to introduce children to the different instruments. Excellent for children of all ages. Or why not hit two media with one stone and watch a movie about music. Amadeus (about the life of Mozart) and Across the Universe (a compilation of music by the Beatles) are two great places to start.

● Also, don’t forget about the art that no people made.

● Finally, try new things which you wouldn’t normally like. You are capable of appreciating almost anything; you just have to figure out how to approach it and what is good about it. Ask someone else what they find compelling about a particular artistic experience and try to see it that way.

Finally, engage with Art Week by helping other people make and/or appreciate art.

● Help someone appreciate something you like in the way that you do. Describe to them what you like about it and why you like those things. Share your knowledge of the thing and your perspective on it.

● Beautify not just your own life, but also the lives of others, especially those who might not have the resources to do it themselves. Donate something you’ve made or volunteer your time beautifying someone else’s space.

● Much of the art world is very decentralized. Support your local artists whenever you can.

Have other ideas for how to celebrate Art Week? Let us know!

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