By Raymond Street
Art is many things, from the very personal to the social. First a disclaimer, a reminder that the following is purely opinion based on my experiences as a volunteer, Art Commissioner, event organizer and artist. Secondly, this is not meant to be an authority, but an exploration of what art is.
Art is ambiguous, which means that it has multiple meanings. To an individual artist, someone compelled to create artwork, the practice of expression can be a release. Art can help manage emotions, heal trauma, and help develop skills or techniques. This personal kind of artwork doesn’t have to be shared, only participation.
These personal expressions don’t need to be pretty or detailed; they are raw. However, a common attribute of an artist is that they practice in public, they grow and express through different phases of their life, often reflecting experiences they go through. Topics like heartache, war, grief, hope, are universal experiences we can empathize with. When we see these experiences it resonates in us, we can see or remember when we felt that way; it reflects within us.
Another attribute of art is technique. A painting and a poem both can be Art, and the variety of construction can reach people in different ways. Perhaps a geometric design or an abstract painting can connect with someone where art has never reached before, and again the reflection can occur. Many artists strive for better technique, grow their skills, trying to become more realistic, proficient, or simply better at their own style.
However, many artists don’t strive for realism or to mimic the methods of others, but instead create a story. The narrative attribute is also a foundation of art. Since the invention of the camera, realism is not as important of a destination. Now you can draw or paint vague abstracts that express yourself, sometimes a story can be told simply in the title of the art. You can paint a series of blue waves, call it “Drowning” and provoke a primal emotion in people.
Journalism, or contemporary reflection is also a part of art. Artists, poets, graffiti, they can all tell a story or express a current event. The event can be reflected through the artist and a version of the moment is captured in the artwork. For example, Burien has hosted the Mural Masters Festivals with colorful vistas and lettering spray painted on the walls of 153 rd .
There is another side to the scale of art, something more practical, something more monetary. A gallery, famous murals, a local artist become nationally recognized, all these things can put a city on a larger map. People move into places which are hospitable to artists. They want to be around the color and the images, they want to be connected to the emotions and ideas reflected in social and personal expression. They want to be entertained.
Tourism, which is a kind of hospitality, lets people enjoy the artwork, enjoy the flavor, spend their money on a small piece of the experience and then return to their home. Tourism is the on the other end of the spectrum of personal art, it’s the durable, renewable part, where a city or region nurtures and supports artists.
Things like music venues, art clubs, theatre groups, monthly art walks, and festivals where Art is celebrated, are all part of this growing foundation.
Art also acts like a seed. It starts early, planted in children to help express and develop emotional awareness, learn coordination, and participate in something that isn’t a pass/fail test. Art can be celebrated by putting their artwork on your refrigerator. (Perhaps the highest honor of the house.) Later in life, after the urgency of work and family is diminished, when retirement gives a few more hours to reflect on the memories and events of a lifetime, art can be a
connection for older folks to have with their environment, with each other, and with their society.
Art is a symptom of a tolerant society, willing to listen to the voices of its people.
These opinions come from the years Raymond Street has served as a Normandy Park Art Commissioner, a grant writer and artist for the Mural Masters Graffiti festival, a previous Burien Art Walk organizer, a painter, a volunteer and fiction writer in the Burien, Normandy Park and Des Moines area. There are many more ideas and experiences around Art, and this is not meant to be any sort of authority on the multiple meanings of Art or anyone else’s experiences.