Culture Front: Creative community
I’ve been thinking about creative community lately. What does it mean to be a creative community? Why do people come together around creativity and art? How much of it is driven by intention? How much needs to be allowed to coalesce organically?
To delve a little deeper into these questions, I thought it might be useful – and fun – to look at a specific piece of art and see what it reveals. The piece of art in question is a painting by Katy Ann Fox that she made for the shareholders of Community Supported Art Jackson Hole. CSA works similarly to community supported agriculture. Families or individuals buy advance shares of the summer’s harvest of art.
Last week I picked up my first share, which included work by Fox, Cynthia Stoetzer, and Wendell Field. From my CSA bag, I pulled out Fox’s 5-inch square section of an entire impressionistic Teton scene painted by Fox. Each shareholder received a different square of the larger oil on board painting. If all the shareholders were to gather and put our pieces together, we would see the whole.
Each of our small scenes tells a story in itself. Mine, for example, is the top of an aspen tree foregrounded against the lower part of the Grand Teton. But I only know that from looking at the image of the whole painting that was included in my share. My painting can also simply be seen as a burst of green brushstrokes on the left, with a more serene blue in the center, with another small frenzy of white and purple in the top right corner. Is it then an abstract painting? Is the composition pleasing? What, if anything, is it saying?
Of course, from Fox’s perspective, the squares don’t have any “meaning” to them, per se, beyond their visual impact.
“I wanted every piece to have something of interest in it,” she told me. “And I wanted to be pleased with the whole.”
When I mentioned that my painting had an abstract quality to it, she wasn’t surprised. “I’m a texture lover,” she said. “My brushstrokes are often intentional.”
Fox confirmed that a fair amount of planning went into this particular painting. But she also let herself just paint freely, to give the landscape a fresh, of-the-moment feel. “One of the exciting things to me about painting is that it’s always different. If you’re totally controlled, you’re going to get bored.”
Fox loves the fact that her painting now links 40 people, forming a small, ad hoc community. Though the people may not know one another, they share a common thread. We are also linked by the painting’s palette. Fox focuses on natural colors, true to Wyoming landscapes, though she may amp up the colors up to highlight them.
Taken metaphorically, Fox’s painting offers a microcosmic perspective on the balance of chance and planning in creative community. Last weekend’s Wild Festival events were larger microcosms, where what was successful – reconfiguring public spaces (from Jackson Street to the Town Square to the Center lawn) to foreground artists in action (steamrolling prints, adorning models in material from nature, drumming and physical theater) – welcomed shareholders (the public) to take part in the art itself. When this happens the audience goes from being bystanders to invested and essential contributors.
Maybe therein lies a key element that artists and arts leaders can hope to activate, no matter the size of the creative community.