What is art?

Henry James in his short story The Middle Years:

We work in the dark — we do what we can — we give what we have. Our doubt is our passion and our passion is our task. The rest is the madness of art.

Leo Tolstoy, in his essay “What Is Art?”:

Art is not, as the metaphysicians say, the manifestation of some mysterious idea of beauty or God; it is not, as the aesthetical physiologists say, a game in which man lets off his excess of stored-up energy; it is not the expression of man’s emotions by external signs; it is not the production of pleasing objects; and, above all, it is not pleasure; but it is a means of union among men, joining them together in the same feelings, and indispensable for the life and progress toward well-being of individuals and of humanity.

Frank Lloyd Wright, writing in 1957, as cited in Frank Lloyd Wright on Architecture, Nature, and the Human Spirit: A Collection of Quotations:

Art is a discovery and development of elementary principles of nature into beautiful forms suitable for human use.

Steven Pressfield in The War of Art, one of 5 essential books on fear and the creative process:

To labor in the arts for any reason other than love is prostitution.

Charles Eames, cited in the fantastic 100 Quotes by Charles Eames:

Art resides in the quality of doing; process is not magic.

Elbert Hubbard in a 1908 volume of Little Journeys to the Homes of Great Teachers:

Art is not a thing — it is a way.

Oscar Wilde in The Soul of Man Under Socialism:

Art is the most intense mode of individualism that the world has known.

Thomas Merton in No Man Is An Island:

Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time.

Francis Ford Coppola in a recent interview:

An essential element of any art is risk. If you don’t take a risk then how are you going to make something really beautiful, that hasn’t been seen before? I always like to say that cinema without risk is like having no sex and expecting to have a baby. You have to take a risk.

André Gide in Poétique:

Art begins with resistance — at the point where resistance is overcome. No human masterpiece has ever been created without great labor.

Friedrich Nietzsche, made famous all over again by Ray Bradbury in Zen in the Art of Writing:

We have our Arts so we won’t die of Truth.


ArtBox Institute

ArtBox Institute: Marketplace Skills for the Creative Industries

Are you an emerging or mid-career artist looking to map your career goals? Develop a brand? Discover news sales venues? Market your work more effectively? Build networks? Launch a social media campaign? Understand legal rights? Write compelling grant applications? Speak engagingly about your work?

ArtBox Institute is a proposed nine-month professional development certificate program that will launch in January 2014 and be open to emerging and mid-career artists from any medium and arts administrators who are seeking to sharpen skills necessary for success as entrepreneurs in the marketplace.

The ArtBox Institute (ABI) draws on the resources and expertise of the City of Flagstaff, Flagstaff Cultural Partners, NACET, Coconino County Board of Supervisors, Coconino County Community Services, the Small Business Development Center of Coconino Community College, Northern Arizona University and others.

Target participant market: Art school grads from NAU and CCC, arts administrators from nonprofit organizations, artists seeking to grow their audiences and take their sales to the next level, artists interested in working full-time making and marketing their work, those considering becoming artists and selling their artwork for the first time.

What ABI offers that differentiates it from existing programs/seminars/workshops:

  • A curriculum created specifically to address marketplace skills needed by artists. A curriculum that is centered in experiential learning. Participants will practice what they will be taught and coached into mastering the skills.
  • The creation of a cohort that functions as a source of networking, collaboration and peer review.
  • Reduced-rate services offered by the professionals who will be instructing the participants (printing, graphic design, tax preparation).
  • The possibility of mentoring by one of the core coaching team, a group of 4-5 professionals who teach over the entire length of the program, offering continuity and the possibility for relationship building with the participants.

Program details: ABI will begin with an overnight retreat in mid-January 2014. Participants will meet the core teaching team, the program director and be given an orientation. The primary coursework will be two-three regular meeting times per month for a total of 80-100 contact hours for the duration of the institute. Additional lectures/social gatherings will be added to the coursework calendar to take advantage of partner resources (artist lecture at NAU, visiting artist offering portfolio review, etc.) A website, scheduled to launch in July, will be the central information and application site.

Learning by doing is the core of ABI. While lecture and panel discussions will be a component, practicing the skills you will be taught is the fundamental means of learning. Our aim is real and practical preparation. We believe the best way to learn a skill is to be shown how to do it. Then try and receive feedback. Then try again. And try again. With an open mind, genuine effort and guidance, skills can be obtained.

Proposed topic for the curriculum:

  • STRATEGIC PLANNING and BRANDING: creating a roadmap with goals and measures of success, key business and management skills
  • VERBAL COMMUNICATION: public speaking, presentations, pitching
  • FINANCIAL LITERACY: business plans, project budgeting, intro to QuickBooks, tax preparation for independent contractors, segregating personal and artistic finances, budgeting for your life and your artistic projects, how to track deductible expenses
  • PROMOTING YOUR WORK: best practices for social networking and media sharing, e-commerce, building and maintaining a website, blogs, unconventional marketing and avenues for sales
  • LEGAL ISSUES: copyright, usage, contracts
  • WRITING SKILLS: fundamentals of clear and effective business writing and storytelling, writing for grants, writing for the web, blog writing
  • PERFORMANCE DOCUMENTATION: videography, photography, work presentation skills
  • FUNDING YOUR WORK: applying for grants and residencies, working with a fiscal sponsor, forming an advisory board, making the tools of organizational fundraising work for individual artists, partnerships with venues, donors and funders

How you can help and participate:

  • Offer feedback. Post a comment here. Tell artists and get their suggestions. Send Laura Kelly an email at lkelly@culturalpartners.org.
  • Talk up the idea among friends. Spread the word. Spread the love. Help us to help the arts community.

Our second forum

WHO: You and anyone you know in or influenced by the arts.
WHAT: A forum for updates on the arts incubator.
WHEN: Thursday, May 2, 5-6 p.m.
WHERE: Coconino Center for the Arts
WHY: Because you have something to say. And something to hear.


Ways of Seeing: Potential waiting to be revealed

written by guest blogger Darcy Falk

Even though the natural world has rules – like certain plant species having parts in multiples of three or four or five – the truth of it isn’t always apparent. When I draw an iris silhouetted against a rock wall in my back yard, it will look different every time depending the angle and the time of day and the age of the bloom. If I make a figure drawing, I might not draw two arms, even though they’re both there. My perspective has more to do with what I see, than it does with the truth of the model’s body.

In the studio I pinned up a newspaper clipping several years ago about the painter, Wayne Thiebaud. The article includes a now yellowing image of a Thiebaud landscape that portrays many views of a California farm valley. An aerial view of the landscape divides the picture plane, and vignettes tucked within those spaces describe the details. It’s an inventive and interesting solution to portraying both the big picture and the rich particulars of a place.

At the Northern Arizona Book Festival last year I participated in a group panel discussion about cross-discipline creativity. In preparing, I found this paragraph I’d written some time back:

No matter what, a photograph or a drawing is not the object itself. Writers say the way to tell a good story is to rely on authentic details, but not all the details get written in….Details trigger our own observations and experiences to authentically convey some thought or idea.

As the panel progressed, the discussion came around to how creative people use metaphor, how metaphor becomes a shorthand of sorts, a way of assisting our minds in making synaptic leaps between the details.

Consider word association games. I think: “timer, baking, kitchen, oven, hotpad, apron, grandmére” and that leaves me feeling calm and comforted by images of my grandmother. You might have a different reaction: “timer, classroom, essay test, failing grade” and feel stressed out and anxious.

That’s an extreme example, but the point is we each react slightly differently to the same stimuli, based on our life experience and the situation at hand.

The truth is that’s what makes us unique, and ultimately why we connect to certain pieces of writing or art or dance. When my writing or artwork taps into the power of your memory, it makes my work powerful.

I lay down the dots and you connect them.

Impressionist painters figured this out more than 100 years ago, knowing that their viewers would supply the details they left out. Post-impressionist, Georges Seurat’s paintings took that knowledge one step further when he painted A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte. He understood optical mixing of color. The result was pointillism, a painting technique that relies on the brain’s ability to literally connect the dots.

Our brains so love to connect the dots, maybe as a way of filling the vacuum of empty space from which arises the very best ideas and creative work. Better to be a bit uncomfortable, live with the ambiguity, see what interesting stuff arises from those empty spaces.

An old case for a Polaroid camera sits on a shelf in my studio. The outside is warm butterscotch leather, with maroon velvet inside, and a solidly-made long leather shoulder strap. I bought it at a secondhand shop simply because I liked it. It still sits empty in the studio, waiting for the right thing to put into it. But maybe it’s just a container, empty and available, a box for keeping possibilities.

What’s the big deal about the arts anyway?

1. True prosperity. The arts are fundamental to our humanity. They ennoble and inspire us—fostering creativity, goodness, and beauty. They help us express our values, build bridges between cultures, and bring us together regardless of ethnicity, religion, or age. When times are tough, the arts are salve for the ache.

2. Improved academic performance. Students with an education rich in the arts have higher GPAs and standardized test scores, lower dropout rates, and even better attitudes about community service—benefits reaped by students regardless of socio-economic status. Students with four years of arts or music in high school average 100 points better on their SAT scores than students with one-half year or less.

3. Arts are an industry. Arts organizations are responsible businesses, employers and consumers. Investment in the arts supports jobs, generates tax revenues, and advances our creativity-based economy.

4. Arts are good for local merchants. Non-local arts audiences (who live outside Coconino County) spend an average of $54.78 per person on meals, lodging, souvenirs and transportation when they attend arts events. This is valuable revenue for local businesses and the community.

5. Arts are the cornerstone of tourism. Arts travelers are ideal tourists—they stay longer and spend more. The U.S. Department of Commerce reports that the percentage of international travelers including museum visits on their trip has grown annually since 2003 (17 to 24 percent), while the share attending concerts and theater performances increased five of the past seven years (13 to 17 percent since 2003).

6. Arts are an export industry. U.S. exports of arts goods (everything from movies to paintings to jewelry) grew to $64 billion in 2010. With U.S. imports at just $23 billion, the arts achieved a $41 billion trade surplus in 2010.

7. Building the 21st century workforce. Reports by The Conference Board show creativity is among the top-five applied skills sought by business leaders—with 72 percent saying creativity is of high importance when hiring. The biggest creativity indicator? A college arts degree. Their Ready to Innovate report concludes, “…the arts—music, creative writing, drawing, dance—provide skills sought by employers of the 3rd millennium.”

8. Healthcare. Nearly one-half of the nation’s healthcare institutions provide arts programming for patients, families, and even staff. 78 percent deliver these programs because of their healing benefits to patients—shorter hospital stays, better pain management, and less medication.

9. Stronger communities. University of Pennsylvania researchers have demonstrated that a high concentration of the arts in a city leads to higher civic engagement, more social cohesion, higher child welfare, and lower poverty rates. A vibrant arts community ensures that young people are not left to be raised solely in a pop culture and tabloid marketplace.

10. Creative industries. Creative industries are arts businesses that range from nonprofit museums, symphonies and theaters to for-profit film, architecture and advertising companies. An analysis of Dun & Bradstreet data counts 904,581 businesses in the U.S. involved in the creation or distribution of the arts that employ 3.3 million people—representing 4.25 percent of all businesses and 2.15 percent of all employees, respectively.

 with thanks to Randy Cohen

A room with a view

written by guest blogger Steve Warburton

I sat in on your ArtBox intro and am very curious as to what the ultimate form will be.  One idea I’d like to pass along is derived from a book by Marilyn Friedman called “Selling Good Design: Promoting the Early Modern Interior”.  In it, she details how designers in the 1920s were frustrated by American lack of vision in home décor.  While Europeans were embracing Art Deco and modernity, most Americans were content to live with Colonial style.  In a coordinated effort between retail centers (who wanted to sell new items) and designers (who wanted a modern canvas), they produced modern showrooms showing furniture, upholstery, lighting, textiles etc, in the modern idiom and all in a room-like setting, to show customers what a modern room might look like (since many had never seen an example).

My idea of the relevance of this to Artbox might step over the line of Art v. Craft, but imagine if local commercial artisans furnished a “room” somewhere where the public could stroll by and see an entire room furnished by local makers.  It might make them rethink how they do home interiors, and the same for local designers.  Of course, as a furniture maker, my interest is obvious.  But I find the idea intriguing in any event.  Flagstaff values its local makers, but perhaps residents need help to expand their vision of what could happen!

In any event, best of luck with ArtBox and thanks for your efforts!


Consider filmmaking

written by guest blogger Denise Stilley

Unfortunately I missed the initial meeting on December 11th.

I wanted to bring up the Emerging Filmmaker Program I run for high school students to learn about film production.  The program is in its fourth year and has produced 6 films that have all been screened in film festivals across the nation and even won a couple awards!  The program is under the wing of the Flagstaff Mountain Film Festival and has helped students discover/develop their talent and passion for filmmaking with graduating students going on to attend top film/arts schools like New York University, Emerson, American Music & Dance Academy etc.  This is the only filmmaking program available in all of Northern Arizona.

Filmmaking incorporates several businesses throughout any production and over the years, we have generated local collaboration from restaurants, shops, local boutiques and artists, schools, museums etc.  I would like to see the program grow in terms of its equipment/facility and ability to teach beyond just high school students.  The purpose of this workshop is to generate and breed local filmmakers so that we push content and issues of Northern Arizona/Flagstaff region out into the national sphere, creating awareness and drawing attention to our concerns.

Films are made best by those who are firsthand living the experience and that is one thing that the community does lack is local filmmakers, essentially, locally produced content, to keep the finances circulating within this community, rather than outsourcing to Los Angeles or New York.  I wanted to present this program as a consideration for the Arts Incubator to generate and infuse the power and cohesion that filmmaking creates in a community.  Please let me know what you think.

Link to the Emerging Filmmaker Program Website: