Sunday, December 30, 2007

Green Aesthetics

Two serendipitous events caused me to ask the question of whether their could be such a thing as a Green Aesthetic, or a Green Art. First, my wife and I visited the San Jose Museum of Art yesterday to view two small exhibits. One was a collection of lithograph's by the Spanish artist Joan MirĂ³ and selected works by Richard Diebenkorn, created in New Mexico between 1950-1952.

The second event was the fact that I spent more time looking at the Green Change web site. Actually I was prodded into doing this by Sanda Everette who thought I had missed putting a link into the right side menu here. (I had, but consciously... it is there now.)

The words that I am reacting to come on the "About us" page.
Green Change is a community of people with Green values: Justice, democracy, sustainability and non-violence. We work together to share Green art, politics and culture.
What would be the characteristics of a Green Art? I think foremost that is is not defined solely by the politics of it's content, though content is always a concern. There is a lot of so called art that people make that would never be called "green". In fact, most of it does not cross the threshold from being only propaganda to being art.

Art has the power to move us by its unique combination of aesthetics and concepts. Take away either one and it loses power. Take away all of the aesthetic communication involved and I no longer call it art, only propaganda.

I am not going to try to take readers from Aristotle through Kant to Clement Greenberg. Rather, I would like to suggest that the Japanese concept of wabi-sabi embodies the characteristic of a Green Aesthetics. I referenced the wikipedia article on wabi-sabi because it probably is better than more "arty" books at communicating the sense of wabi-sabi.

I recently picked up a book on wabi-sabi in Kinokunya book store. They made it all sound so easy with quick quotes from the likes of John Coltrane. "You can play a shoestring if you are sincere." While sincere expression is a part of wabi-sabi, they left unstated that Coltrane was a tireless worker at what he did.
I've been reading a Jerry Coker book on how to practice jazz and in it he describes that someone (Dave Baker?) observed John Coltrane practice during one of his 11 hour practice sessions and remarked that Trane, who by this time was already a colossal player, intensely practiced in C major the whole time.
Sincerity by itself is not enough. There is much art that is sincerely bad.

In a similar fashion, may American text emphasize the idea of being unfinished and imperfect and use that as an excuse for a total lack of craft. In terms of the pottery that was so highly valued by the tea masters of Japan, the imperfections resulting from the the firing, the accidental but aesthetically correct markings of that process were highly valued.
"It (wabi-sabi) nurtures all that is authentic by acknowledging three simple realities: nothing lasts, nothing is finished, and nothing is perfect." (Richard R. Powell, Wabi-Sabi Simple

Still missing from the wikipedia article is the sense that there was a value in being old, of having survived, of carrying a patina of regular use. It is not a degrading of art by use but rather an elevation of the useful to the status of "art". Maybe this is the one concept that seems the most foreign to Western artists and the reasons why so many are so wide of the mark when they try so hard to follow this aesthetic.

The O'Hanlon Center for the Arts in Mill Vally, CA has an annual show entitled Wabi-Sabi. From what I have seen, it rarely achieves its goal.

Why I think this is a Green Aesthetic

The emotional base of wabi-sabi comes from our relationship to nature.
Wabi-sabi values that which has a history of being useful.
Objects which are described as wabi-sabi are generally subdued rather than loud, simple if form rather than ornate.
Wabi-sabi recognizes the process of creation and the interconnectedness of

One of my vivid memories from five years of living in Japan was the experience of spending a dreary Autumn afternoon in the Nezu Art Museum which had a show of 16th / 17th Century ceramics. I don't remember any specifics. I only remember leaving the Nezu and walking through their garden. One shaft of sun broke the clouds, striking a small maple tree. One red leaf dropped, coming to rest on viewing bench in the garden. Simple, quiet, unforgettable.

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