Today I took a trip to my local Savers, a thrift store here in Minnesota, to study the art for sale. I happen to mostly believe in the motto, “art makes nothing happen,” adapted from Auden. As soon as art has a purpose, at least in my mind, it loses some of its artfulness. Not that art doesn’t make all kinds of things happen — good things, bad things, revolutions, laughter, tears. But I wanted to try and understand what the art stacked in the bins at the thrift store was doing (and, literally, it’s stacked in bins).
Overwhelmingly and not surprisingly, what I saw were mostly pleasant images of animals and flowers and lakes, of nature domesticated, of a world in harmony and harmless: baby raccoons with big eyes, flowers in full bloom without insects. Even the painting of a lion seemed safe, perhaps because it was sitting right next to a photo of a kitten. In this art, animals are cute; they don’t eat you or bite you or carry infection. People put these images in their homes and feel calmer about the world around them; it is a good, safe place out there and in here.
Of course, I did find one strange, haunting original oil painting — true outsider art — that was not reassuring. It was a rural landscape with a windowless farmhouse, leafless tree, winter, decay. The awkward painting style only emphasized the work’s ennui. This was a spooky painting, stacked in between the reassuring dogs, lilacs and words of praise to God. And then I remembered, felt that all of the other “Hallmark” art was cloying, creepy in its own way; it all set my teeth on edge — does it really calm anyone?
My favorite piece, which I nearly bought for $2.99, was yarn art of a port scene at sunset, a small five-by-seven-inch piece, black sailboats on a red and orange and yellow yarn sea. A girl walked by and did what I did, rubbed the yarn (and you can never rub the art in any gallery, so Savers has that, at least, over the Walker). And then she asked her mother, didn’t she think it was pretty? There was no irony in her voice. The piece was strangely soothing and horrible at the same time. I guess I was ready to dismiss the mass-produced art of domesticated nature as willfully ignorant decoration, a kind of perversion of art, monomaniacal in its wishful manifestation, creepy. But I liked and was attracted to this handmade piece that was in the same genre, had the same theme. It was more human, maybe, this dedication of time and effort to an idealized yarn world, and there was just a little something more in it, which is all you can ask of art, really.
In the end, I didn’t buy it, though.
Viewfinder posts are your opportunity to “show & tell” about the everyday arts happenings, interesting sights and sounds made or as seen by Minnesota artists, because art is where you find it. Submit your own informal, first-person responses to the art around you to katie(at)mnartists.org, and we may well publish your piece here on the blog. (Guidelines: 300 words or less, not about your own event/work, and please include an image, media, video, or audio file, and one sentence about yourself.)