During my final semester of college, I’m taking a class called “Vision, Voice, and Practice.” The painting and poetry professors have teamed up to teach it, and it’s offered for either upper division Art or English credit. That’s where the “Vision” (art) and “Voice” (writing) parts come from.
The class has afforded me a wonderful opportunity to study that strange being known as the Art Major. I’ve learned that these beings are most active at night, understand the term “Class starts at 8:00am” very loosely, and like to talk about symbolism. They’re also deep thinkers, insightful, and caring.
Being in a class with art majors has given me a glimpse into the art world—a world where trinkets arranged in boxes help people think about exploration, and a pile of jumbled words produces a 3D object.
Being part of this community has made me think differently about my writing.
In my mind, I’ve always categorized “skill” into three sections: skill, craft, and art. The difference between these three had something to do with practicality and objective beauty. I might be skilled at washing dishes, but the activity isn’t beautiful, and is definitely not an art form.
Craft got a little closer to art, but it was still too practical. The glass-blower creates beautiful bowls that hold liquid, and the wood worker creates sleek tables, chairs, and surfboards. But these things were still practical—they were working pieces, not art pieces.
Art, though—art was the shimmering pinnacle of creativity and beauty. It wasn’t supposed to be practical. It was the standard of perfection that practical people looked to and dreamed of reaching.
I had always thought of writing as part of the craft category. It can be measured definitively by a set of rules and requirements (grammar and style) and becomes better with practice. It’s used practically: to record the minutes of a meeting, persuade the public to vote for a new tax, or warn drivers about the deer that might cross the road. Therefore, writing didn’t qualify as art.
My definitions were wrong.
I won’t attempt to give a definitive, holistic definition of “Art” in this post. That’s book and dissertation material. But I will say that any good definition of Art will not demand physical beauty, and will not exclude practicality.
One of the main purposes of Art is to make us think—to challenge our pre-conceived ideas and broaden our perspectives. Sculptors use clay and photographers use printed images, but they both use them as mediums to convey an idea, or even to produce a practical object.
Writers use words to the same end.
Language as a medium doesn’t depend merely on definitions to convey meaning. It also uses style, sound, restriction, and even visual presentation—the same criteria we use to evaluate art.
By the same token, Art doesn’t exist apart from the practical concepts and struggles of humanity. Artists are trying to work out answers to these questions through their work. There is no such thing as meaningless art, (though some have tried). The end result always includes an idea, a concept.
The other essential part of Art is active creativity. A rose is beautiful, even “sublime,” but it is not human art. This is where “Practice” comes into the class title. We are actively practicing our disciplines, not floating around in the philosophy of Formland, but grounded in the work we make. Our assignments are both individual and collaborative, but in each one, we’re creating something.
Through Practicing the collaboration of Vision and Voice, I have learned to not limit my own work, but to see it as Art.
All the pictures above are projects done in this class. If you’re interested, you can check out the class blog here for more of them.