Some people say that it is the artist’s ability as a craftsperson that really matters more than anything. The work must be perfectly, seamlessly, made. It must appear to have been ejected from an art machine. The idea behind the work is sometimes important as well, but where it comes from, less so. It is acceptable for the art machine to take the idea from a friend, or another artist or a writer or wherever. The imaginative powers of the art machine are irrelevant.
In this way art becomes easy to absorb. There is no question as to whether the object appears machine made. If it is sloppy, if imperfections exist, then it is not a product of the art machine and therefore it is not good. These are the rules. There is a yes or a no. It becomes neat and tidy.
This is understandable because it is believed that material perfection is something that can be achieved. With enough money or support or practice the artist, any artist, can be an art machine. In fact, with enough money, time and practice, any person in the world can be perfect, it’s just a matter of deciding upon perfection. Of course, there’s a little matter of self discipline as well. First and foremost, one must want to be perfect.
When an artist embraces his or her imaginative and creative powers things tend to become messy, and difficult.
Just for this moment, let’s decide to agree that the imaginative and creative power is intuitive, mysterious, and uninhibited. It tends not to work in a series, but moves freely between variations of a more nebulous concept. It is truer perhaps, and richer in meaning, taking into account not only art history or some other fact, but also the personal, the believed and the supposed.
All of art is an image. Maybe even a mirage. The best of art is not a lesson or a lecture, it is instead an elaborate game made real for reasons that are sometimes only guessable. The best of art makes you feel, not admiration, but something potent, something vital, something soft, something barely there sometimes. And then it makes you think.
And that brings us to Caleb Speller and Natural Disaster. The entire show is a series of contradictions, but so subtlety played that a visitor could leave the gallery with nothing more in mind than coffee and a cookie at Fantastico. Here is a small sized guitar trapped between two walls of bricks. Here is a large circle made from pie shaped wedges of soft woolen blankets. Here is a painting of a flowering plant in a show case. Here is a series of photographs of men in front of an ancient tree. Here are some drawings, here is an essay, here is some pottery. All parts of the greater circle, the whole.
The contradictions are many. And so are the questions. Who is the circle? Who is the natural disaster? Is this a self portrait or a critique on all of us? And what about God (and should god be capitalized)? Is Caleb a god-loving man, are we a god loving people? Are we stewards of the earth as promised by religion, or do we believe in the independent rights of trees and animals, instead? Is heaven a distraction, a dangerous siren, or is it some place real that beckons and welcomes with love and inclusion? Should we even bother to consider these questions anymore? Perhaps it’s better just to live it, playfully, fully, before it’s gone.
It would be wrong to take this show and bend it and twist it for the sake of understanding it. It would be wrong to narrow it down to a single, easily consumed idea. Easy is easy, but it isn’t a choir. Easy is where disaster lies, the disaster that sees humans at their worst.
There is one idea though, that seems to shine a gentle light over it all, and that is joy. The joy of creation, the joy of the whole. The joy of inclusion. The joy of life.
But even then, there is just so much sorrow.