In my alumni magazine for the BYU College of Humanities, there is an article by J. Scott Miller (Department of Asian and Near Eastern Languages) called “Out of the Blue: Serendipity, Translation, and Literature.” Of the various issues he discusses, one quote really caught my attention. He says that
art is found just beyond the edges of our expectation, where we are challenged to interrogate strangeness
He means art in all forms. In fact, in just the next paragraph he restates this same idea, using the word truth in place of the word art. (“I invite you to think about the times when you have stumbled upon beauty in ugly places or have found truth just beyond the edges of your expectations.”)
I find this an intriguing definition of art. I am currently in the process of developing a syllabus for an art appreciation course I will be teaching this fall, and I am using a new textbook. In the past, I have taught more of a history-based course, starting with the art of prehistory (cave paintings, pottery, Stonehenge, etc.) and continuing through modern times. But this new text has less of a linear or chronological flow, and I am trying to rethink my process of teaching to make this class a little broader in its discussion of art.
So I am extremely open right now to new ways of thinking about art. My recent excursion to LACMA with the kids has also contributed to this. I found myself fascinated with the oversized contemporary sculptures and watching how my children responded to these works of art. They had very little patience for the representational two-dimensional paintings that hung on the walls of the museum. They wanted to touch and walk around (or through) the art and experience in it in a very physical, emotional and personal way. They liked what was new and different. They liked being presented to familiar things (like a rock) in an exaggerated and specific way. They never once stopped to ask, is this art? They immersed themselves in the experience and enjoyed the sensation of the “strangeness” of presentation.
Another thing that has altered my perception of art was being invited to be on a jury panel for an international art competition hosted by the Museum of Church History and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. I love the art of the past, but I have always had a harder time with current trends in art. Looking at, and judging, works of art created in the last couple of years, was inspirational. The competition was for religious art, but the theme, Make Known His Wonderful Works, was broad enough to elicit an amazingly wide range of submissions. I had never had to make the kinds of judgments before that would rank an artist’s work worthy to hang in the show or even win an award. It was enriching to need not only to choose works that I liked, but to be able to discuss them, defend them, and try to understand them. Within a religious culture where much of Church art is didactic and for teaching scriptural stories, it was refreshing to look at works that went beyond that: that went “beyond the edges of our expectations” and to challenge us to see the things of God (truth) in new or unusual ways.
I am grateful for these experiences in art. I enjoy using the things I have studied and taught, and pushing beyond the boundaries of my comfort zone.