Sunday, July 18, 2010

American Visionary Art Museum

Last weekend, I went on a field trip out to Baltimore to visit the American Visionary Art Museum.  It was just the kind of day I needed, a change of scene to shake me up.  Even 45 minutes away from home can be enough sometimes.  And AVAM is a good place to go if you're feeling like a square peg.  It's a place full of the art of, well, other square pegs.  The exhibit while was was there was "Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness," topics which, like most any artist, I spend a fair amount (perhaps too much) time thinking about.  How to do what I want to do (whatever that might be - it's hard to tell some days) and still afford fancy stuff like food, shelter and cat food?

The AVAM trip restored some perspective, especially when reading the bios of many of the artists.  I've got such a cushy life. 

Here are the notes I took, just because something touched a nerve one way or another.  I've dug up some links if I could find them (no photography allowed inside the museum, alas):

"Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure.  Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing. " -- Helen Keller.  I no longer remember what this quote was attached to, but it hit me at once. 

Painting: "Straight Jacket," haunting figure, wrapped in a straight jacket.  The artist's note: "We all go through feeling absolutely trapped before we can truly break free." -- Sermet Aslan, artist and Charleston, SC restaurateur.

My favorite machine: a very fancy looking device that looks like 1950s medical equipment.  It's called the "Purr Generator"  Made by Duncan Laurie.  For a picture, see

From the bio of Donald Austin of Tarboro, maker of machine-looking gadgets: "Austin believes if something looks as if it should work, then one can more easily believe that it really does serve some kind of useful purpose.  Three-piece suits often provide the same illusion."  I can never resist cubicle escapee humor. 

The grand nephew of Tsar Nicholas II of Russia, Andrew Romanoff, paints on Shrinky Dink material.  I don't think there is a way to sound stuffy and elitist and overly-beret wearing artiste-y and say: "My medium is Shrinky Dink" as well.  I love it. 

In terms of liberty: one floor had several pieces by people serving life sentences in prison.  There was also a series of pictures done by a man in and out of institutions for most of his life, often of the people he saw struggling as well.  There was art done by the Ala Bashir, former personal doctor to Saddam Hussein and witness to many horrors (see, for details on his life).  There was work done as memorials to people lost.  Honors to heros Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rosa Parks, among others.  And there was an entire country created, completed with a political systems and characters in every imagining, the intricacies revealing the complexities of busy mind.  Another artist minaturized, in stunning detail, works of art that moved him.  Sadly, I didn't write the names down of many artists, the lapse of which is painfully clear to me now. 

I thought as I started writing this that I wouldn't have much to say, that I'd lost pieces in the hustle bustle of the intervening week.  Instead I'm finding how much stuck with me, the art and its impact, the stories of the people drawn to make things not because of training but just because, that's what humans do, how we process our world, often our pains, and make it into something else, this art that stirs the rest of us, inspires us to go and make our own. What a cycle. 

In short: a fabulous museum.  Go.  Oh!  And there's PostSecret there too, of which I'm a religious reader. And...

... a magic bus.  How can you not want to see the magic bus?

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