Is it Art?
Submitted by jegan on February 18, 2007 - 15:53
Grasping for any available molecules of air during an awkward pause in a conversation, I discovered the Art of the Huichol Indians. The suddenly non-animated conversation took place at a sidewalk cafe in Puebla, Mexico. The subject isn't important; words had opened wounds; a subject touched upon prematurely.
Suspended in a silent bubble I watched the antics of some children whom I assumed had an attachment to the street artisans in the area. I had already resisted the gaze of a musician. He had a look appropriate to the locals name for the area "Hippie" (based solely on the price of lunch, "Yuppie" would have been a better fit). As he played his music, his eyes commanded that I prepare myself for the inevitable request for payment. I recognized the tactic, and almost recognized the face from my sojourns on the West Coast in the distant past.
Behind me two women had captured my brother's attention. My view was obstructed, but they appeared to be braiding, or weaving. I later learned that they were making beaded masks. They were Huichol Indians who travel down from the mountains to sell their work in the city. The Huichol draw, paint or make elaborate yarn or bead works. They use images that best express what it is that they want to ask the gods. Through their artwork, the Huichol Indians encode and document their spiritual knowledge." notes Susana Eger Valadez in "Huichol Indian Sacred Art'.
I am using the words "Art" and "Artwork" to describe the masks the women were braiding. As we negotiated the price of some pieces, my brother and I unconsciously tried to determine if the pieces met the definition of "Art". We were really gauging the level of our desire to "Own" them, but I can fantasize that we had higher aspirations. Obviously we placed them on a high level. Other tourists entered and left the discussions. The price was high. We actually stood in line at an ATM (it was Christmas Eve) for an hour to get enough liquid cash.
As I grade my brother's comic book collection I ponder the same question: "Is it Art?" When I was a college student in 1970 I thought so. I wrote a paper comparing the actions of Conan The Barbarian to the heroes of ancient Irish Literature. I submitted a Conan magazine with my paper. My brother is still pissed. It was a very early issue worth a lot of money today (and even back when we had the store). I got a "B+".
I'm doing some reading to reintroduce myself to the industry. I found a copy of Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud. In an earlier post I mentioned their is a college devoted to the creation of comic art. A local Boston reporter was amazed to see that Harvard BA's were members of its first class.
Over the last few weeks I truly enjoyed reading the issues that introduced the Kingpin, Doctor Octopus or the Green Goblin to the Spider-Man cast of characters. I understand why Spider-Man became a cultural icon. A 1965 Esquire poll of college campuses found that college students ranked Spider-Man alongside Bob Dylan and Che Guevara as revolutionary icons!
But is it art; and what about contemporary comics? Can comics "encode and document our spiritual knowledge"? Is that even necessary?
My purchases in Puebla were works made for tourists. However, now that I understand the significance of the four principal deities (the trinity of Corn, Blue Deer and Peyote and the Eagle) I appreciate them even more. Maybe they qualify as Art because they passed the test of time: in this case three months, but they are aging well!
I am getting real excited about going to New York City Friday for the Convention. I accept that one person's framed piece of art is another person's framed poster. I don't care. If I enjoy looking at a page, if I enjoy reading it, its art.
Hopefully, through forums like these, and venues like NYC I'll find new storylines and images that will enhance and develop my spiritual knowledge.
Or at least keep me warm on a cold winter's night.