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I Get Art

by Wally Clark on 2020-10-01T13:54:42-07:00 in Book List, Music & Art | Comments

I get art.

I knew at an early age I was never going to be a great artist. Or writer. Or musician. Sure, I could doodle a pretty sunset, pen a romantic poem, or write a great letter. I could hold my own in the kitchen, my favorite place to let artistic expression flow, or shoot a super snapshot with my Polaroid camera, but I was never going to quit my day job to go off and be a great sculptor, architect, or filmmaker. So, if I wasn’t going to be a photographer like Robert Capa, a writer like Mark Twain, or a painter like Picasso, what could I do where I would be surrounded by the works of all those fabulous artists?

Ah, I could be a librarian!

Libraries serve as a cultural oasis for many people. That libraries are free help to make them a magnet for the arts for many patrons in our communities. And by “art” I mean “The Arts” in the biggest sense of the word. I look at all the various kinds of art that people love. It ranges across the board, from highbrow to lowbrow, and libraries offer it all. From collections of esoteric international literature to pop fiction reading groups, from classical musical performances to teen rock bands, from foreign language film programs to computer animated cartoons, from oversized coffee table books to the simplest of children’s picture books, art is everywhere. Even the buildings and grounds of libraries can qualify as art. Some specialize in magnificent gardens, others take to the high road and design and build public buildings that astound and amaze people from around the world. Take, for instance, the downtown branch of the Seattle Public Library. It was designed by master architect Rem Koolhaus, has received numerous awards, and is considered by many to be a grand masterpiece of civic architecture.

Art is a public good and libraries take great pleasure in providing access to that good. In many communities, the fine arts are not easily accessible or readily available to everyone. In schools too often art, music, and dance, already electives, are pushed aside for the sake of test preparation or sports. In many cities, access to works of the masters or even local musicians can come with a hefty price tag attached. Art can be hard to dive into when the price of admission to a museum costs as much as a bag of groceries. Libraries are there to help remove that obstacle to art. The arts are and should be an immersive experience. To really “get” art, you need to tune into it regularly. Libraries provide that access and give folks the opportunity to get their hands, eyes, and ears right into the middle of it all. Libraries help to bring art into the lives of people so that they can develop their own personal taste for it, whatever or wherever those tastes might lead.

For many folks, art comes in sideways. I know I certainly wasn’t trained by my K-12 teachers to appreciate art, not in a classical sense. Instead it ambled into my life in a roundabout way. I was lucky in that I had many early influencers. My mom was a collector of amazing, cool things that graced our home and enriched our lives with a splendor not seen since the salons of fin de siècle Paris. I experienced kitschy Latino art thanks to my extended family, Asian folk craft via my military duties overseas, and all kinds of low and high art thanks to friendships I made around the West. Formally I was able to study the great works of famous artists while enrolled in a Liberal Studies undergraduate program where we incorporated all the glories of Western culture into one, grand final thesis. I have been a happy art sponge for many years, and I feel that it all prepared me well for the life of a public librarian. I feel by knowing it, I can share it, and boy do I love to share that art around the community!

Finding art in your community can be easy if you know where to look. Yes, there are free programs at the library, but you can also attend events like “First Friday” art gallery openings or free days at your local museum. You can walk public gardens, attend live music in the park, or catch open air art shows for free. And sometimes you just get lucky and meet folks who love art, make art, or have it hanging up in their homes. That shared passion for art can lead to a lifetime of friendship. For instance, while attending library school I met a wonderful couple of old Berkeley hippies who were deeply into collecting Mexican folk art, masks, coffee table photo books, and western regalia, but who also had a fantastic knowledge of blues music, French champagne, and new age medicine. We became best friends and they, in turn, turned me on, over the years, to other artists, events, and festivals around the Southland as I wandered in and out of their circle of influence.

Art is where you find it, or where art finds you. I really believe that defines my librarian soul. Thanks to libraries, art has continued to flow into my life and influence me in many marvelous ways over the years. I have really enjoyed meeting and getting to know the many creative folks who have hung their art on our walls or done performances in our buildings. I am honored to witness the creative impulses that spur on artists to make things that convey their deepest feelings and emotions, thoughts made tangible and real. I admire the cool factor, the energy burn, the use of color, the strange mediums, the weirdness quotient, the passion, the sheer bravery and incredible talent that goes into the creative process. That is why I love to participate in, buy, share, display, make friends with, and maintain connections in the art world and the world of artists. I may be “just” a librarian, but through immersion and participation I get to be a patron of the arts, too. And when I get to share their works at my library, it becomes a win-win for everybody, the artist and the community alike.

Art. I get it. It feeds me. And when I buy a piece or two from an artist or display their work at the library, I hope that it helps to feed them, too.

Here is a list of books that will give you a grand overview of art from many different perspectives.

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