The World is Your Canvas

Here’s one of my favorite quotes:

“The world is but a canvas for our imagination” – Henry David Thoreau

The reason this quote speaks so deeply to me is that I identify with it, it matches my world view. I say this, because I see art everywhere, I see it in the way trees are planted in an arrangement in the park, whereas most people just see a park. I see it in the placement of flowers in a cafe – whereas most just see it as part of the table. Art is everywhere. Art is all around us.

Most people, when you ask them “what does an artist do?” they would say something like “paint paintings”. It’s really common to hear that. Paining paintings that hang in galleries. This is only one very narrow view of the world. It’s true that many great artists were painters, like Monet, Van Gogh, and Cezanne. These painters came up with their own style of applying the paint to the canvas (or the board, as the case may be). This style ripped through the art world while they still lived, that’s how amazing it was. Note that most artists don’t find their fame until well after their death, if ever. So while there is a lot of art to be appreciated in painting, it’s not the whole story. Now that we’ve got that off our chest, let’s outline the great classics and traditional forms of art.

Sculpture, Scrimshaw, Silk
For hundreds of years, thousands of years, and even (arguably) hundreds of thousands of years, humans and their ancestors have been making art. We’ve found deftly scraped, inscribed, scribbled-on scrimshaw, taken, frozen and preserved in the arctic tundra. People have been making beautiful works of art for so long, that it’s no wonder these are considered “traditional” mediums. The ancient Chinese have been weaving beautiful flower blossom scenes into silk blankets and tapestries for hundreds of years. There is no doubt that this is art. To say nothing of the stone and metal sculptures that have weathered the millennia. Think of the famous sphinx of ancient Egypt. Can you think of a greater work of art? How did these ancient people find time to employ their spark of creativity, among the howling desert wind, between the search for food and the threat of war and death? I struggle to find time for my own art between yoga classes.

Steel, Wood, Clay
The Japanese are known for their wood-carved katana sword handles. They are known for their intricate steel-castings. Even today, they are known for the delicate art of kintsukuroi, or “golden joinery”. Gold on wood or clay, repairing bowls or furniture. If you’re not familiar with joinery, it’s the art of using different woods to make the joints of furniture. It’s a very fine version of carpentry, and no doubt, a subtle art. It’s very much a traditional form of Japanese art.

In this modern age, we’re at a point where we can make a wide variety of food based not on the need to eat, but on it’s artistic value and theatrical value: the flourish of a bisque applied deftly after a cloche is lifted. We have many requirements now for different kinds of food: Halal, Kosher, Vegetarian, Vegan, Pesco-Vegetarian, etc. These are not a new phenomenon, but they have become like the constraints of the medium you’re sculpting in, when you’re making art. Because it’s a modern, relatively new phenomenon, people don’t think of food as art. But ask a chef, and you’ll find striking similarities.

Non-traditional methods of art
New and high-tech art are becoming more and more popular. The art of 3d printing is still very new. The cost of producing a 3d printer is quite high, but the technology is advancing and the price is coming down, enough for starving artists to afford. 3d printing is a very interesting medium, as you can construct things that would be physically impossible to carve by hand. Sculptures inside sculptures inside sculptures. The mind boggles at what is now possible. Other things you wouldn’t even consider art are appearing in galleries. I recently saw an exhibition by a young woman, all on the topic of identity and the self. The display consisted of several pieces, including a print out of her DNA sequence, a single strand of her hair, an X-ray film from her recent mammogram, and a single strand of her hair. The whole collection asked the question “Who am I? What is the self?”. I was moved. There are many other new mediums emerging all the time, like virtual reality or augmented reality. I’m sure we’ll be covering these as they emerge. Thanks for reading.