I was recently moved by an article I read in The New York Times Magazine entitled “A Training Ground for Untrained Artists”. The article details the success of a nonprofit in Oakland called Creative Growth Art Center, where developmentally disabled adults can learn to become skilled and successful artists. Some of the individuals helped by this organization have become fairly renowned artists, selling high-priced works to celebrities and large organizations such as Facebook! The nature of the story is pretty profound, however what caught my eye and really caused me to become introspective was this quote about the center’s executive director Tom Di Maria near the beginning of the article:
He was immediately taken by the merit of the work being produced at Creative Growth, he said. The center, he felt, also offered an escape from the pretensions of the art world. ‘‘It was pure,’’ he says. ‘‘I don’t mean to fetishize that word, but it’s true. They are using their work as a means to communicate.’’
Hmmm, purity in art? What is that? Is it truly working in a void where outside influence, particularly of the “art world,” is non-existent? I think most artists operate under some amount of pressure from expectations, frameworks, and the want to make some kind of living. Yet, I think there is still an opportunity to be pure and true to one’s own vision. Else we would not have artists like Pablo Picasso, who went against the grain, creating something they believed in while still longing for recognition from the art world.
Also, can we consider works from the Creative Growth Center to be truly pure? The pupils at the center have the option to learn art techniques from teachers. These teachers are artists who carry with them influences which have shaped their approach to creating. Other staff members at the center are artists as well. Surely at least some have been submerged in “the pretensions of the art world.” Purity, it seems, can easily fall away in such an environment.
Art is a word with many definitions and synonyms. Pure may never be one of the latter.