It brings me great delight to announce that another guest columnist has come forward! The following essay has been written by our own Daylily. [In case anyone doesn’t know: to view the photos at a larger size, just click on them.] With deepest thanks to her, here it is:
But Is It Art?
“Life is what happens to us while we are making other plans.” — Allen Saunders in Reader’s Digest, January 1957
Art or art-like constructions may happen in the same fashion. I was planning my errands. I habitually group errands so as to save time and gas and reduce auto emissions. I would be passing by the dry cleaners, so why not recycle all those wire hangers? They seem to multiply like gerbils (but really, it’s because my husband has his shirts laundered and gets them back on hangers). So. Take the hangers out of the closet, stack them up, rubber band them per usual. Easy. Umm, no. The hangers had other ideas. It certainly looked as if it would be easy to remove them from the rod, but they were seemingly bonded together into an amazing tangled mess. I began to wonder, could I purposely build a structure, an artwork of wire hangers? I certainly had plenty of material. I wonder, I wonder . . .
My first construction was in the living room, on the carpet. My self-imposed parameters were that the hangers must not be purposely bent and that nothing must be used to fasten the hangers together. In addition, I purposed to make a freestanding structure, i.e., with no support except from the hangers themselves. I succeeded within a reasonable length of time. Then I found that said structure did not photograph well, because of the patchy sunlight in the living room and the dark couch as background. I might have succeeded with the photo later in the day, but, alas, I brushed against one of the hangers at the base of the creation, and the structure collapsed flat!
Since I would have to start over, I moved the field of operations to the foyer. I draped sheets to make a good background for photos and began construction on the hard tile floor.
I got nowhere. The hangers could get no purchase on such a surface. After some experimentation, I found that an old nubbly rug, covered with the sheet, made a good surface. After that, I failed several times to build anything with height to it. My technique needs work, evidently. Building the base of the structure, however methodical one might attempt to be, remains an inexact science if one is not going to wire the hangers together to stay precisely where one wants them. Achieving height requires some hangers to be added simply for balance. Hence, the hangers sticking out in various directions. Of course, those help to make the thing more treelike, as well. The technique is something like building a house of cards and something like the game Blockhead, where one must always be aware of the center of gravity of the tower.
Eventually, I succeeded in making what I call “Wire Tree One.” I was forced to compromise on the last parameter. It was either that or start over. I compromised. The tree is supported from the base and from one point at the back, where a hanger leans against the draped antique chest. I thought that the tree lacked definition, so I added some Christmas ornaments.
But is it art? It felt like making art. To me, making art is an adventure. It involves cooperating with the materials, letting the materials dictate what happens next, starting with some sort of idea, but letting it change as the work progresses. Yet, really, how much skill does it take to create something like this? I have seen no classes in creating wire hanger sculptures. Isn’t art a matter, in part, of training and skill? Perhaps this is not art, but rather, doodling with wire. Perhaps if I made many of these wire trees, I would arrive at one so good that it could be called “art.” Or perhaps the photos of the tree, particularly the one that includes the shadows of the tree, are art, while the tree itself is not.
Here are two pictures of my raw material. You may recall seeing paintings made from dropping paint onto the canvas. If I drop a pile of hangers on the floor, is the result art? How about if I entitle the results “Wire Pile One” and “Wire Pile Two”? Just how much purpose and design does a construction require before it can qualify as art? (Believe me, dropping a pile of hangers on the floor takes considerably less time, patience and skill than “Wire Tree One”!) Maybe if I were to drop the same pile of hangers on the floor numerous times, photographing the result each time, the series of pictures would be art? I could call it “Evolution in Wire.” If I were to start with a small pile of hangers and add a few more for each picture, the title would be even more appropriate. (If you run across this particular invention in an art museum someday, remember, you read it here first!)
Is art, perhaps, a continuum? A beginner’s effort, like a child’s drawing, satisfies the artistic impulse, whether anyone else likes the result or not. Perhaps beginners’ efforts fall on the low end of the continuum, and Matisse and Picasso are at the high end.
Here are some more questions. I am an artist, so if I make something with purpose, is it therefore art, simply because I made it? Furthermore, most people have some sort of creative impulse to make something. Is whatever they make, whether a poem, a song, a painting, a cake, a scarf knitted from a pattern, or a flower arrangement, art? Does one have to be an artist to make art? Or are we all artists, to some extent? What about the distinction between art and craft? If one knits a scarf from a pattern, with the only original feature being the choice of color, is that art or craft? Is art dependent upon originality? Or is art dependent upon whether anyone is moved by it, i.e., appreciates it or is edified or uplifted or amused or horrified by it? That is, is it art because it means something? What about beauty versus ugliness? Is art dependent upon the measure of its beauty? I would submit that there is such a thing as ugly art, though we may not want it in our living rooms.
So, dear readers, what is your definition of art? Is “Wire Tree One” art, art-like construction, doodling with wire, or something else? Whatever it is, it is not destined for long life, except in the photos. It now resides in the place of honor usually reserved for my Christmas tree. One would think that if anyone slammed the front door, that would be the end of the wire tree, but it has proved to be remarkably sturdy. I will dismantle it soon. I plan to time the process of taking it apart, and I will count the number of hangers at that time, for those who want to know! In the meantime, when I see the tree from my chair in the study, it makes me happy. There is something cheerful about its crazy angles and its resemblance to a Christmas tree. Is it the ghost of Christmas trees past? Is it a pleasant foreshadowing of Christmas joys to come? What IS this thing?