Sometime in the 1980s a good customer and I were chatting in my office. In the course of conversation, he mentioned his excursion to visit Lillian Openheimer in Union Square at her Origami center. Lillian is largely credited with introducing origami to the United States.
My customer was pleased to learn that we shared a mutual interest in origami - I had discovered the Japanese art of paper folding in high school and had made a myriad of creatures, always looking for an opportunity to make a flapping crane.
At one juncture in the conversation he showed me paper he had acquired from Lillian's studio. My first instinct was to take a ruler from my desk and measure it. He was furious, incensed by my act of measuring. Apparently, quantifying or measuring the media was NOT a valid response or way to appreciate the artform. Storming out of my office, my manager at the time managed to calm him down some, explaining that I meant no insult and I was not incapable of appreciating Origami, but that I had an analytical side.
You can't dictate how someone will interpret art or what aspect they will take interest in, often to the chagrin and frustration of artists whose explanatory and dictatory diatribes fall on deaf ears. A friend who introduced me to Boaz Vaadia, told me of an incident where he was once at the studio of the sculptor who became frustrated that my friend was taking a greater interest in the mechanisms of construction and moving heavy stone than of the art itself - see his work here.
I was told by a regular reader of this blog about an often photographed crocheted bicycle on the street in the Lower East Side at Elizabeth and Broome Streets ((lower left photo) near the Christoper Henry Gallery. Not realizing there was a connection between the gallery and the bike, I strolled inside to discover an exhibition of the work of Polish artist Agata Oleksiak on the second floor. An entire room and every object in it was crocheted in a riot of colors.
Olek makes a point (evidenced in the exhibit title - Knitting is for Pus****) to differentiate between knitting and crocheting. From her website:
A loop after a loop. Hour after hour my madness becomes crochet. Life and art are inseparable. The movies I watch while crocheting influence my work, and my work dictates the films I select. I crochet everything that enters my space. Sometimes it's a text message, a medical report, found objects. There is the unraveling, the ephemeral part of my work that never lets me forget about the limited life of the art object and art concept. What do I intend to reveal? You have to pull the end of the yarn and unravel the story behind the crochet.
This may be a valid and crucial distinction in her art, however, I am afraid that the vast majority of observers will make a cursory examination of her work and come to their own conclusions.
On August 29, 2008, I wrote a piece called Nuance. I think the very essence of many works of art hinges on subtlety and nuance and to miss a fine point or distinction can mean to really miss everything. Often it is not so much the incapacity of the viewer to understand but rather the unwillingness to take the time to see and learn. So much to do and so little time.
I ran through Olek's exhibit quickly. It is only through writing this story and reading about her work, her bio and watching interviews did I become aware of her mission. Perhaps the epigram, attributed to Dorothy Parker, best summarizes: "You can lead a horticulture but you can't make her think" :)
Note: This epigram is a play on the American proverb: You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink, dating back to the 12th century: "A man maie well bring a horse to the water, But he can not make him drinke without he will."