Yesterday I had a conversation with some of my students which I would like to have if we can manage it, but which I had to discontinue because it had devolved into argument. What’s the telos of art as practiced by someone who’s not a professional artist? We didn’t say telos, but I think it’s what we meant: what is it? What’s it for? What’s the proper balance between creativity and constraint within a school classroom? Some of my students thought: “to express yourself;” “to express how you feel.” I didn’t think that, but couldn’t quite articulate what I did think, but said that I would get back to them on it. Sometimes, for some people their art might be made in order to express feelings — always and everywhere a person’s feelings and characteristics can show up in their artwork. Drawing makes me feel serious and intent, and you can often see that, especially if it’s a self-portrait.
Then I was looking back through some of my art stuff, thinking, as I have been. It is true that if I’m going to express what I think or feel about something, I prefer to do it through writing. That’s probably because I don’t only want to say that something is, but speculate on why it is, and how it is, and what it means in the grand scheme of things for it to be that way. That’s a way of thinking that’s more adapted to writing — and especially to essay writing. Narrative writing shows that a thing is, and how it is, and what it is for it to be — the showing being the really appealing thing about narrative; show, don’t tell, as writing teachers like to say. But I like to tell — partly because it’s easier. But I don’t just want to express myself, but the thing that I’m writing or thinking or drawing about; not necessarily a feeling, but a thought, with all the structure that makes that thought fit in with all the other thoughts around it.