Tag Archives: Kurt Schwitters

Paradox: Self-Promotion and Humility

If artists do not promote themselves no one else will. In fact no one else will even know that his or her work exists. Yet for a follower of Jesus, the example is humility, and oh yes, Jesus always promoted himself. What? Or did he?

Jesus often told people who he was and why he had come. He taught people about his Father. In fact his main focus was on the Father’s love for people.

Jesus did not promote himself for selfish reasons. I have to admit that Jesus revealed whom he was in ways that made him unpopular. Where am I going with this? I am not sure.

As an artist I need to sell my work. My work is often not easily accessible and needs to be explained. To explain I need a platform. To get a platform I need to promote myself and my work.

I find myself wondering what Jesus would have been like in his decade or so of working in the carpenter shop. I know the workmanship would have been superb. His dealing would have been honest. The work would have been on time and under budget. But, how would he make sales?

Perhaps the world as he knew it then has changed dramatically. (He continues to know it as he is still with us through his resurrection.) In the village, there may have been a carpenter’s guild. People would have known him and his work well because of word of mouth and the reputation of Joseph’s work. The work probably came to him. Jesus, I imagine, would have worked humbly without promoting his work or himself. In fact, his work, by its nature may have been self-effacing, yet he is the Creator of the whole world.

As a carpenter in a village he would have created functional items from time-tested designs. He did not work then as a wood artist or sculptor. What is the difference between making functional items and creating original work that is experimental, ephemeral, conceptual, thought provoking or just plain beautiful? I do not know the answer.

My work is more like the latter. In a tough economy people buy what they need to function in daily life: plates, cups, and bowls. Their focus is on survival. In these days of fake news, and especially real news, paying the bills is paramount.

Galleries suffer in down times yet art is deep and creative in a culture under duress. I think of the Dada movement of WWII. Art was made that deliberately made no sense – and it helped the artists to keep their sanity when their work was declared an affront to the state and they were deported or left.

Actually it was an affront to the state. That is why it was created. The state had gone wild. Artists had the courage to reflect this.

Anyway, that art did not sell then but now is literally worth millions. The German artist Kurt Schwitters, known as the father of modern collage, created small collages out of whatever crossed his path as he lived in a prisoner of war camp in Scotland. Work that would now be worth millions was thrown in the garbage by the guards. I saw a small collage he made one year in the Vancouver Art Gallery, 8 x 10, browned with age, bits of ordinary paper. I ask, how could this be worth millions?

It brings me back to the big questions, what is art, what is the artist, who is the viewer, what makes someone buy art? Is art worth dying for? I ask here for your answers, tell me.

 

LifeStrife

“Life/Strife” Mixed Media Collage DS

 

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Schwitters Again (Still)

Mixed Media on Cardstock 8 1/2” x 11”

“Lemon Ginger Tea” DS

The Tate Britain had an exhibition of Kurt Schwitter’s work in January 2013. I saved the “Arts and Ideas – BBC Radio 3 – R3 Arts: Night Waves” podcast to listen again to the interview between host Martin Sweet and the art critic Charlotte Mullins. They are recorded as saying he was one of the great figures of European Dadaism. About Kurt Schwitters work, they celebrated that it was: “extravagantly impure embracing all conceivable materials: bus tickets, boxes of licorice allsorts, cotton wool… He called his creations: “merz”.

As a collagist myself, I naturally work ‘after Schwitters’. It is my heart style. I save and glue anything from my life. Again and again I come back to reading about his methods. His room of ‘merz’ amazes and inspires me. (Imagine a room that becomes smaller from the sides and ceiling as he adds architectural found pieces of wood in white.) I enjoy shape and pattern. I find both in Schwitters’ collages.

The work is intuitive and organic. It flows naturally from life. It becomes cultural artifact witnessing everyday lifestyle and a new kind of legacy documenting the intimacy of the personal for the family. It is non-hierarchical and so easily accessible as a practice for rich and poor of any age or culture.

I consider what I will collage in the studio today – some black and white wrapping paper from a generous Korean friend, a parking receipt with blue, and some emerald green foil from my favourite chewing gum. This I may top off with a hot pink sticky note. The possibilities are endless. Made in the image of God, we too create not ex nihilo but out of the givens of the daily detritus of our lives – reminiscent of the leftovers from the feeding of the five thousand. In the workshops I pass this on. In feeding others, I am fed. DS.

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Spontaneous Storytelling

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“Apple Woman” DS collage book

Spontaneous Storytelling

Yesterday during the workshop one story after another came up as I presented the contemplation and collage material.  I got to tell quite a bit about Kurt Schwitters, the one whose philosophy of recycled collage I follow.  I even told the part of his story where a Scottish connection comes in.  In brief: he was in a prisoner of war camp in Scotland and created collages there out of found papers as was his habit.  When he was moved down to England the guards threw out his collages thinking they were garbage.  Millions of dollars in collages were lost to the arts community.  A few years ago I was privileged to see some of his small collages in the Vancouver Art Gallery – each one valued at over a million dollars.

Things went on from there to a partial history of collage going from a craft (Valentine’s cards) to an art form largely due to Schwitters work.  Into the conversation came “Spiral Jetty” an example of earth art in Utah by Robert Smithson.  Questions were asked about art, especially contemporary art and on it went.

As I continued to give direction in starting their recycled collage books I passed around my own book – one of several that tell the story of my life in coded/collaged form.  When I came to the page “Apple Woman” I relayed briefly about the time of spiritual encouragement when I broke my ankle and had a long recovery.

In these groups we contemplate many things about ourselves, about God and about our lives that are art-infused.  I think of the parable of the Ten Bridesmaids (Matthew 25).  We need to be ready; to be familiar with our stories – relayed as hope to others.  Sometimes it is only a few words about our own experience.

“But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.”

I Peter 3:5