Thursday, November 2, 2017

The Question of Art (Part 2)

The Question of Art (Part 2)
By Devon Bowers

Originally published on the Hampton Institute

In a written portion of our series “The Question of Art,” we talk to artists Johnny Bentanamo and Kelly Ann Gonzales Boyle discussing art and it’s important to society. Part 1 is an audio portion and can be listened to here.

1. What kind(s) of art do you do? What/who got you into art in the first place?

Johnny: I specialize in musical recording & performance art as well as mixed media visual arts. 
Essentially, I write music on an acoustic guitar as well as accompanying lyrics that I perform live as a soloist, I also compose noise records {that I refer to as "grind-pop"} which I release online. As far as the visual arts go, I mostly use found items to create impressionistic & abstract paintings.

When I was 8 years old, I was downstairs at my Grandparents house & put on the MTV where I saw the music video for Guns N' Roses "Welcome to the Jungle"...that was the moment when I knew what I wanted to do with my life & it's been a struggle ever since.  Besides that important moment in my life, I've had many great friends that have doubled as teachers over the years & I own to them much thanks.

Kelly: I am a writer. I have been a writer since I first learned to read and write. Since I was a child, I loved nothing more than curling up and getting lost in a great book, and when you get lost, you often find yourself. My father always encouraged me to be an avid reader, writer, and lover of art. Each time he got me a book, he'd sign it, "Never stop leaning. Love, Papa."

I grew up in New Jersey, and my dad grew up in NYC, and he always wanted me to experience the city by bringing me to art museums. I tried my hand at drawing and painting, but while it's a medium I love and appreciate, I never quite honed my talent into it unlike writing which came much more naturally.

2. Why do you think that people nowadays seem to devalue art? We seem to live in this paradox where people will argue that art isn't important, yet they enjoy music, movies, theater, and the like.

Johnny: I think art is largely devalued by many because they don't see the most popular mediums as art.  Things like that popular tv show, big budget films, & major label musical releases are {mostly} made to make money & have little to no artistic value because they lack the intention to invoke emotion or challenge contemporary ways of thinking.  The people that seek out art for the sake of art can find it, but it takes research & I think that that's a little bit too much work for the common person who is consumed w/ work, school, family, etc.

Kelly: Art is a series of contradictions. It's like life. Moving, terrifying, strange, and sometimes just downright boring. Art, like life, is misunderstood. We can hate art like we can hate our lives, but we can choose to say, "You know what? Not for me today. Not for me right now. Let me try again tomorrow." The same art I may have passed by in a museum ten, five, maybe even one year ago, can have a totally different impact on me today. Just based on new experiences or my mood for the day.

I don't think that people devalue art. I think people value and crave art more than ever before. People want to be connected and to feel something. The advent of social media is an example of this. We can sit here and lament the dehumanizing aspects of social media, or we can appreciate its ability to teach us something about each other, even if it's just parts of each other.

We all make choices each day to say to others and to ourselves whether or not we want to live our lives to the fullest. Art helps to enrich our lives through music, movies, theater, and so forth.

3. What does art do for you, if anything, on a emotional and psychological level?

Johnny: For me, art is therapy, plain & simple.  If I didn't have a creative outlet I would be a miserable person to be around.  I grew up in a physically & emotionally abusive house so I have some "demons" that I battle on a daily basis & whenever I'm feeling lost or overwhelmed I can just pick up my guitar or paint brushes to wash away those negative feelings...I've become a much calmer & centered person since I began creating more consistently about 7 years ago.  Art is also a way to supplement my income since working a full-time job is not conducive to my medical disabilities, which are extensive.

Kelly: We are all part of a grand universe, and art is a means of connecting our selves to the world around us. Whether it's a fresco painting on the ceiling of a chapel or a black square on a large, white canvas, art speaks. It can speak a loud and grandiose volume for all to know its behemoth presence, or it can simply murmur and let its nearest passerby know that it's standing on the corner, too.

Art makes me feel everything. It has made me laugh and cry. It has angered me and plainly disgusted me. It keeps me begging for more and I find myself seeking out stranger and grander things. To better myself. To learn. To be a part of something greater than myself.

4. What is the most fun and most difficult part of being an artist?

Johnny: The most difficult part of arting for me is also the most fun part...performance.  I give everything I have in me during a live performance, it's like some otherworldly entity is channeled through me. It is the most cathartic thing I have ever experienced but w/ that said, afterwards I hurt & usually need to sit or lay down for a hour or more.

The most rewarding part of performing is not what it does for me though, it is what it does for others.  I'm a naturally open & overtly expressive person, which most people are not, so when attendees approach me after I'm off stage & express to me how the things I did or said spoke to them or made them feel like they weren't alone, I know I did something good...even if it comes from a place of selfishness as I do not make art for anybody but myself.

Kelly: I once argued with someone I dated--and I suppose you can already guess that the brief relationship ended quite rapidly--about whether or not writing was an art. He believed writing was simply a skill that could be taught and refined. I believe it was both an art and a skill. You learn the skills of the grammar, punctuation, and the nuisances of the language. The art of writing is a different and impatient beast.

The most difficult part of being a writer is like exercising. To get up each day and committing yourself to doing it continuously. You can write or exercise in private and no one will know the wiser, but eventually you may find yourself stepping out into the world where a stranger may glance at your open notebook or laptop. You coworker will comment on your new weight loss. You are flattered.
Then you are also terrified. You want the compliments, but with compliments come expectation and criticism. The opportunity and the realization that there is more. There is always more.

The fun part is also the terrifying part. Recognizing the difficulty of putting yourself out there and keeping up that momentum. The thrill of jumping out of a plane at 30,000 feet only to hurtle downwards with a parachute. That is writing. That is art. It's all part of the process.

5. In your opinion, what is the purpose of art, if any?

Johnny:  Art has many purposes & can mean different things to many different people.  For me, as I stated earlier, art is therapeutic.  I create so that I can tolerate living but for many others it is simply something to decorate your house with or wear out to a fancy restaurant.

In The Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde says  “We can forgive a man for making a useful thing as long as he does not admire it. The only excuse for making a useless thing is that one admires it intensely.  All art is quite useless.”  Now I don't agree w/ this sentiment but that's not the point, the point is that, what art is or what it does is completely up to the observer, it's relative to the person that is beholding the creation.  In summation I would say that the purpose of art is to create something that was never there so that all of existence can become a richer & more evolved place.  Art is life & just like all things, the individual works eventually cease to be.

Kelly: The purpose is to exist. The definition is up to the artist. Same thing with life. Don't think too hard about it.

Examine life in its present moment, but then move on. Don't overthink it. Just do. Keep going. Don't stop. Go live your life. Stop reading this and go make some art.

Mr. Bentanamo’s art can be viewed here and here.

Mrs. Gonzales Boyle is the author of the novel Video Games and is readying a forthcoming novel tentatively titled Through An Opaque Window.

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