Yesterday I had the opportunity to visit the Leigh Yawkey Woodsen Art Museum in Wausau, WI. Their annual exhibition of Birds In Art was on display. My interest, like all other times when I go to see an exhibition, is to see how other artists create, speak and think. Especially for such a representational subject matter as a bird.
As I walked around, I noticed that artists whose voices are other than representational were not heard from in this exhibition. Rather, the exhibition was filled with traditional use of mediums with no experimentation there. Well, with the exception, perhaps, of three built up paper pieces by artists Chris Maynard, Kelly Miller and Calvin Nicholls. The rest of the exhibition was filled with traditional compositions, birds in fields, birds in the air, birds on a branch and birds where birds normally are. Nothing there represented a bird in an unusual composition or context.
I began to listen to visitors who were there at the same time. There was only one group closely examining the artist’s work and talking about the art as exploration and discovery and uniqueness. It was the unique works of art that gathered this group around to examine a piece. The other visitors were reading the labels. Yes, reading the labels. Were they reading about the artist background and medium? No, they were reading about the bird and what type of bird it was. Then, they began to talk about this particular bird. They didn’t talk about the artist’s technique, style or uniqueness. It was like they were looking at Wikipedia and learning about the bird that the artist illustrated. Yes, I do mean illustrated. For the most part the entire exhibition could be put into a book not by National Geographic which would fill us with wonder and dreams but by Scientific Illustrated which we could flip through quickly to learn about the wing span, type of feathers, bend in the beak and habitat.
There is a difference between the two books. It is the difference of wonder versus telling one how to think. Both educate, both don’t fill one with wonder. Art needs to fill one with wonder.
My favorite piece in the exhibition exhibited some freedom and personal choice by the artist. Harking back to where you are as an artist in the work. It was by Robin Berry titled Common Firecrest.