Where would you get about twenty kids’ bikes all around the same size? It’s an obvious answer to anyone with a bevy of kids coming up in the home. Just don’t clean your garage for about ten years. What would you do with those twenty bikes? Chances are you might have a massive garage sale or put them on the curb with a “FREE” sign stuck to them. The least likely outcome is that you would look at those bikes and say to your spouse…”HEY I know! We’ll spray paint those bikes funky colours and put them on the edge of the yard as an art installation!” Unless your wife is an artist too, this chances of this happening are pretty spare. I don’t think that’s what the realtors intend when they say “curb appeal”.
Nonetheless, they were eye-catching enough that I slowed down to grab a shot in passing. We saw the bikes in Manitoulin Island. If you have been there, that might be self explanatory. It is a quirky kind of place with its own peculiar culture. In the pandemic, we vacationed there because pretty much everywhere else was booked up. Manitoulin Island is separate from the mainland and you get the sense that’s how they like it. We found the information system to be somewhat colloquial. It’s the “ask a local” system. We found that “ask a local” means the answers change on whim and no one knows why. Price of gas for example. You might wonder at a gas station that has no sign. We filled up and went inside. “You have no price posted” I said (somewhat piqued). “Oh yes” one old gentleman remarked. He was one of a cluster of bearded geriatrics tilting back their chairs while they smoked and scanned us outsiders. “Price of gas, what is it this week?” mused one to the other. “Dunno.” Then he turned to us. “You want to know the price of gas you gotta ask Bill” He grinned as if this oracle made perfect sense except that it was unlikely (as outsiders) we knew who Bill was or where to find him.
But I digress. My point was that quirky people make art. There are those types about. Their job is to act as visionaries for all the rest of us lesser mortals. They see what we cannot, and isolate it so that we can. What they isolate, like the bicycles, is called art. It never occurred to me that bicycles might be called art until I saw a lineup of them on a yard, spray painted in vivid colours.
People make art because it is in our nature to make things beautiful, to find order, to replicate what we have taken in with our own eyeballs. It’s why vikings crowded around a fire in winter might carve a bone knife handle until it is an interlaced pattern of beauty. Nobody got paid for their time there, note. They did it just because. Just because, might be the most ubiquitous explanation for art. “I just felt like it and I don’t know why”.
Art can also come out of places like prison cells. Someone looking at concrete all day might want to spruce up the place with visions of better things and better places. If imitation is flattery, art is also a pale reflection of the beauty we see in nature. We want to stick it on a wall like a prize buck that didn’t get away.
Artists are rarely rich, but they enrich the fabric of society nonetheless. Go to a place where there is no art and it is a dour place indeed. Then go somewhere like Italy where every doorpost and lintel is a piece of art with intricate carving never to be replicated in the modern world. We look at it and think “man hours” and simply do not make the attempt. Such a cost/benefit ration is irrational in the mind of an artist which may be why artists tend to be poor. It is unlikely the guy carving the stone was thinking about the five o’clock bell. He was putting a piece of himself into a time capsule and paying it forward.
Art is the luxury of a society’s surfeit. It means someone’s fridge is full and they have time on their hands, or it means they hired someone else to do it for them. In ancient times that was called a patron. If you were super rich, you could get rad props for supporting an artist. Most times this was tied to your piety. You would hire an artist to paint large frescos in a church, (think Sistine Chapel). While the artist was not really doing this for money, he also was. Sweating up there on a scaffold over a four year commission, I am betting Michelangelo kicked himself, “Someone shoot me next time I make a promise this dumb. I should have asked for more money.”
Sometimes artists just want to make a statement. We had a whacky artist in our neighbourhood. His property was littered with installations everywhere. A large pole, and an old TV with Gorbachov painted on the front. A carved wooden plaque, told the story of Saint Peter catching the fish with a coin in its mouth for the Temple tax. The artist was religious AND crazy apparently. He was also married we found out later on, which made my wife scratch her head. How could that guy be married, and junk up the yard with such things? How come his wife didn’t sort him out?
I have not been given to producing as much art since I had a family. Regularity has ironed it out of me. I found that when I was young and unattached, I could work a rather bohemian schedule. I could paint all night, sleep the next day, and then work two days back to back with freelance, and then start all over. Art (as any artist will know) has no regularity whatsoever.
I kind of lament that. There is still a bit of art in me yet, if I can break out of the mould here and there. Nonetheless I nod to the mad painter of fluorescent bikes lined up in a row. I laud your vision and I note that you have shared. For that, I thank all artists out there. They make the world a better place and it is unlikely they even know why.