Art Can Help
A slim but powerful volume, Art Can Help by the American photographer Robert Adams, is just what I wanted to read, right now. In it, Adams talks about paintings and photographs that are meaningful to him. He talks about images by photographers such as Dorothea Lange, Abelardo Morell, and Judith Joy Ross, and paintings by Edward Hopper, all the while quoting poets like Wendell Berry, Jane Hirshfield, and Stephen Berg.
None of the meditations are pretentious, but they're serious, and pressing. Reading it, I thought, yes, art really can help.
In the introduction, Adams says,
“It is the responsibility of artists to pay attention to the world, pleasant or otherwise, and to help us live respectfully in it.
Artists do this by keeping their curiosity and moral sense alive, and by sharing with us their gift for metaphor.”
He goes on,
“More than anything else, beauty is what distinguishes art. Beauty is never less than a mystery, but it has within it a promise.
In this way, art encourages us to gratitude and engagement, and is of both personal and civic consequence.”
It makes perfect sense to me that a good photographer would also have at his or her fingertips a fair bit of poetry, and there is a poetic understanding of what he sees that impresses me in this volume. “Art has never been easy,” says Adams, and “Art is not just anything.” He quotes Wendell Berry, who says, “The best art involves a complex giving of honour. It gives honour to the materials that are being used in the work, therefore giving honour to God; it gives honour to the people for whom the art is made; and it gives honour to the maker, the responsible worker. In that desire to give honour, the artist takes on the obligation to be responsibly connected both to the human community and to nature.”
There is much that is quotable in this book, but I'll leave you with words by Consuelo Kanaga.
Ps. I just looked up a movie mentioned at the end of the book, and though I've not watched it I can see that it's one of the many gifts that the book gives. The movie is The Quince Tree Sun / or Dream of Light and is about “the Spanish painter Antonio López Garcia and his attempt to depict a quince tree outside his home in Madrid. The film records three months of intense, problematic work – the tree keeps changing shape under the wight of its maturing fruit....” The movie is on YouTube. We have several books on the artist, and he's one of Rob's favourites, so I'm really looking forward to watching this all through.