An eye for art (and that’s about it)

Kathy and I, and some Jefferson friends, returned Sunday afternoon from Art on the Prairie, the annual arts and crafts show in Perry. We went because sister-in-law Vikki from Lamoni was offering some of her craftwork, weaving, ceramics and knitting for sale at the festival.

We also did a walking tour of many of the kiosks at the event. 

I’m always gobsmacked by the talents of craftspeople in many media. I had an enjoyable conversation with a letterpress printer from the East Village in Des Moines, who said her shop has six letterpresses that she operates, in addition to teaching in the graphic design department at Drake University. 

Sixty-five years ago I did rudimentary printing on letterpresses at the Bee and Herald, before Dad converted the shop to offset in the mid-1960s.

But that was the only kiosk with which I felt any kinship, and the level of virtuosity her work evinced was far superior to anything I turned out back in the day. The other artists, of all kinds, left me shaking my head at the creativity and talent they displayed.

I can play keyboards and flute, and have dabbled in trombone and tuba as well. But visual arts, and handiwork of all kinds, passed me by long ago.

In grade school, I was always reluctant to try my hand at art. I felt challenged at stick figures. 

My class (the JHS Class of 1959) included a girl who was universally acknowledged to be the best artist among us. She could draw people, landscapes, still life and anything else she decided to depict. I was very envious.

I think hers was a family trait. Her older brother enjoyed a successful career in advertising design and sales at a large Midwestern newspaper.

Sister-in-law Vikki is adept at creating in a woodworking shop, operating turning lathes and power equipment that seem to me brutally malevolent. She’s also blessed with fine motor skills for her weaving loom and knitting needles. And, of course, she has an eye for artistic beauty and balance.

All that stuff is foreign to me.

I confess to ignorance of what makes a great work of art. I share the puzzlement of one of the others in our group at Perry in trying to understand why some abstract or fanciful paintings bring tens of millions or more at art auctions, when others that look to me to be their equal are valued at only a few dollars. 

I’m not doubting the expertise of art critics. I’m simply confessing my ignorance.

When our sons were in Cub Scouts, they entered their Pinewood Derby with miniature wooden model cars. They were at a distinct disadvantage because most of the other dads had taken shop in high school (I took Spanish instead) or were otherwise skilled at basic woodworking.

I’ll spare the sad details surrounding their model entries. Bottom line: they didn’t win, or even come close.

A classic response of a sculptor who was asked how he created his beautiful statues was, “I just carve away everything that doesn’t look like my subject.”

That’s incomprehensible to me. I shudder to think what might be left of a block of stone if I tried to do likewise.

I identify with the first grader who earned the concern of his teacher and the school psychologist because he drew all his pictures in black. After close questioning, it was discovered that was the only crayon he had.

I’ve come to terms with my woeful lack of visual arts creativity.

I appreciate what I consider to be attractive and beautiful, and am more than willing to let others do the creating.

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Jefferson Bee & Herald
Address: 200 N. Wilson St.
Jefferson, IA 50129

Phone:(515) 386-4161