Blue-Sky Art

I read this short essay this morning at one of my favorite blogs, The School of Life:

Sue Hubbard on Creativity

Blue-sky thinking, finding the inner you; if you look up ‘creativity’ on the internet you’ll be bombarded with sites to help you get in contact with your creative potential. I blame Joseph Beuys, that modern art guru of fat and felt, who claimed “everyone is an artist”.  Now we all feel we have something to say. But do we? Of course Beuys didn’t mean everyone has the potential to be a Picasso.  Motivated by utopian beliefs, culled from Romantic writers such as Novalis and the anthroposophy of Rudolf Steiner, he believed in the power of universal human creativity to bring about revolutionary change.  The psychoanalysts had a slightly different take. Hanna Segal saw art as an expression of the depressive position and the task of the artist as the creation of the world. Great art could be defined by how well it created another reality. In this world the artist mourns for lost relationships and experiences that have given meaning to life. Segal cites Proust who, on meeting some long lost friends, saw how frivolous they’d become. Realizing that his former world no longer existed he set about re-creating that of the dying and the dead. Art, therefore, becomes a form of mourning, where loved ones are given up in the actual world and re-created in an inner one.
Melanie Klein took these ideas further. For her art was a form of reparation for destructive infantile rage against the abandoning mother. While for the psychiatrist Anthony Storr reflective solitude was an essential component.  The cliché that genius is akin to madness is not so far off the mark. Artists, particularly poets, are known to suffer from a high rate of depressive illness. So no, creativity is not about ‘blue-sky thinking’ but about destruction and loss, transformed into art through the arduous creative process.

I have to say I profoundly disagree with her. Art can and often is about destruction and loss, but that's not the only thing it's about. Keep in mind that the psychoanalysts studied and worked in a pretty restricted milieu. There's a whole world out there and cultures that have never heard of and could care less about "destructive infantile rage". I think Josef Beuys was more on the mark than Hubbard gives him credit for. Art can be about loss, but it is also frequently about joy and every single thought and emotion in between. Why can't it emerge from a continuum of the human experience? Additionally, creativity and art does not have to equal "great art"-- how lofty!, and how boring.

The idea that artists are "mad" seems more like old-fashioned romanticism than the "blue-sky" view which Hubbard dismisses (which, ok, can be extremely annoying at times). Are artists considered "mad" in all cultures, or just ours? Maybe it's a chicken-and-egg situation. Maybe some artists are driven mad (or at least get horribly depressed) at the lack of understanding, not to mention cash.

Anyway, I think of the artists I know, the things I read and look at, the music I listen to. The "everyday" art that is a beautifully made piece of furniture or clothing. It is all worthy of our profound respect. I'll go so far as to say that even "bad" art (could we ever possibly even agree on what that is? I'd love to ask John Waters) deserves some respect. Clumsily made, poorly expressed, cynical, sentimental, whatever. We don't have to like it, or admire it, but it should be acknowledged as human expression of creativity. (Skill is not irrelevant here, but Hubbard seems to be talking more about motivation and world-view rather than mastery.)

The more everyone has the opportunity to engage in art-making, the more skills we teach, the more art gets made, the less elevated and mysterious and out-of-reach it is. It's essential for a decent life, and not "blue-sky thinking" at all.

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