Currently, a lot of my classes are attempting to dig into me and get me to articulate why I do what I do. Why do I do art? What makes my practice unique? Same for writing. It seems to be no coincidence to me that Artprize is pouring into the streets of Grand Rapids at the same time I am pondering these things.
In Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling, Andy Crouch outlines a way of ‘diagnosing culture’ around us.
- What does this cultural artifact assume about the way the world is?
- What does this cultural artifact assume about the way the world should be?
- What does this cultural artifact make possible?
- What does this cultural artifact make impossible (or at least very difficult)?
- What new forms of culture are created in response to this artifact?
His thoughts seem to me, a valuable way to think about the creative process, from outside the process. And each question is a question of response. What kind of response to the world created this artifact, and how will the world respond to this artifact now?
And with Artprize blooming all about me, I brought an art form that Grand Rapids is rich in to these questions.
What do murals assume about the way the world is?
Murals assume the talent of artists, that they have resources and tools to take on such a project. A mural assumes that there are artists collaborating with business owners and property owners. Assumes time spent organizing, planning, and painting. A mural often assumes you set out with something meaningful to say. When I was younger I associated murals with flowery designs. But the fiercely patriotic murals in Belfast tell a different story. Preserving raw stories and issues fought for. A mural assumes a story behind it. And of course, a mural assumes a budget. This is coming out of somebody’s pocket.
What do murals assume about the way the world should be?
The murals around Grand Rapids tell me the world should be colorful. Expressive. Things should be said out loud, in color. They tell me that art is beautiful experienced outside of the museum, outside of the quiet hushed echo of gallery walls, and instead squinting in the sun on a busy traffic street, cars racing by. Murals remind me of the delight I found stumbling upon a mural by Edwin Anderson by the intersection of Wealthy and Division Streets. A colorful saxophonist splashed on the side of the building stood out to me, reminding me of my brother soloing at his high school’s jazz dinner dance. My pride for him in that moment surges back whenever I see a painted saxophonist. A mural assumes someone will relate to it.
What does it make possible and/or difficult?
Murals are incredibly difficult to ignore. The 49507 Project mural on the side of the Old Goat draws my eyes every time the bus sweeps by. A loud mural with a potent message will leave its mark for a long time. But murals are also an incredibly accessible art form for people to participate with. ArtPrize always fills Grand Rapids with artists competing to draw the attention of passersby. The most memorable pieces are interactive, but transitory. Murals hang around much longer.
What new forms of culture are created in response?
My favorite response to murals is wayfinding. “Where is that restaurant again?” –“Oh yeah, it’s right around the corner from the giant horse mural.” As a visual person, I might never nail down the name of a street, but if you give me directions by murals and other vividly created artifacts, I am guided through the city by memories of responding to those things.
Often, my creative process is simply responsive. Perhaps what I create assumes the stance of holding deeper meaning. and perhaps we can take art and analyze it until a deeper meaning pours out of us. But for me, in the initial moment, a lot of the time I am just responding to something when I create.
Responding to a cultural assumption that rubs me the wrong way. Responding to other claims about the way the world should be. Responding to the potential glimpsed in a moment. In the process of nailing down my art process, I fear I’ll lose essence, the initial gut response, that leads me to my creative endeavors in the first place.