Saturday, May 02, 2009


When I was a kid there was a pastry and coffee shop called Mayfair Doughnuts, and on the roof of that restaurant was a large sign that read:

As you wander on through life, brother,

Whatever be your goal

Keep your eye upon the doughnut

And not upon the hole.

That may work if you are on a quest to locate a donut shop, which of course was Mayfair’s goal.  However, many years ago, before the first do-nut was invented, any pastry chef who merely shaped and fried lumps of dough was not destined to make the great discovery, because as far as donuts are concerned, the hole is everything.  Without it, there are no doughnuts, just sweet pastry blobs.  Focusing upon what you already know, may help you achieve what you already know, but it isn’t always a good way to access and play with what you don’t know.

To invent the doughnut (as well as to creatively engage in art) one must sometimes not just look at what is, but at what is not, or maybe what might be, could be, or never will be.  Art deals with possibilities, not probabilities, and does not provide safe answers, but asks provocative questions.  An artist does not look carefully to confirm an already known truth, but casts his eye widely to discover overlooked possibilities.

In life, keeping your eye upon the doughnut tells you lots about what doughnuts are.  You can study doughnuts, analyze their texture, surface, glazes and chemical composition.  You can measure them, weigh them, and calculate their mass and their specific gravity.  If you are successful, really successful, in your analysis and inspection, you will be ready to do one thing very well - you will be ready to make your own doughnut.  This will have nothing to do with being an artist, and everything to do with being a successful pastry chef. 

Mastering skills, techniques and procedures, teaches proficiency, not creativity.

You see, art is not about duplicating or reproducing reality, but rather it is about alluding to and interpreting reality.  An artist has no need to be an expert about her subject; she needs to have access to her sense of wonder and whimsy.  Agnes De Ville said, “Life is a form of not being sure, not knowing what (is) next or how.  The moment you know how, you begin to die a little.  The artist never entirely knows.  We guess.  We may be wrong, but we take leap after leap in the dark.”  I don’t think Ms De Ville spent much time analyzing how art or doughnuts are made.

An artist does not study the object to become an expert, but the artist observes and wonders about the object, not with the intent to know it as an expert, but to relate to it as a friend.  The artist is is more involved with intimate relationships, than with knowledge.  Whether the object is a landscape, a person, a still life or an abstraction (and yes, even a doughnut), the artist tries to understand how that object exists.  How it exists on its own, with its environment, and also its relationship to the artist.  The artist tries to understand more than what the object is, this is also about what the object isn’t, what the objects has to show us, and what the object is concealing.  Art is always involved in mystery, and it simultaneously attempts to solve the mystery and create more mystery. 

Art doesn’t look at subjects, it looks through them.  To do that, the artist would much rather keep his eye upon the hole - that is the way of artists.

I will have another essay posted in a week or so, but in the meantime, please leave comments or reactions – I will try to always respond.  If you don’t want to respond by posting, feel free to e-mail:


4 comments: said...

I'm enjoying your thoughts on art equaling truth and not knowing, simultaneously. It speaks to a greater frame of mind of an individual artist being someone who fashions not only a visual product (or aural, if they are a musician--or both, I suppose, if a poet)--but a product that represents their impulse to create something new from their surroundings...even perhaps a doughnut. Although there is a difference between art and invention. Both, of course involve hypotheses and testing, but art is fashioning communication: invention, ease.

artquest1 said...

Thanks for Posting.
Perhaps there is also the concept of necessity - invention usually originates from a concept of need - societal or individual, while perhaps the artistic "origination" arises from a sense of want?
To me, the arts at least partially fulfill a personal desire to add to the general level of understanding, aesthetic or possibility. We may not need another poem, painting or aria, and we may not even know what to do with it when it is presented to us, but somehow, the fabric of our being is slightly more rich and comforting. If nothing else, the arts are our butterflies and rainbows - they make us more pleased, even if they contribute little to our bank accounts or personal success.
Drop by again, Bob

Els said...

Interesting...I FINALLY get time set aside to read some of your posts (I'll catch up eventually...or not, but I'll keep plugging away at it), and I find an entry that speaks to the very thing I posted about yesterday. Curiouser and curiouser, said Alice.

Wonderingsoul said...

... the fabric of our being...

If you are calling my writing 'art' then I would like to add that it feels like a for of torture to be a vocabulary (albeit the richest in the world) which only contains a variety of the arrangements of 26 characters.
I often feel these characters strangle me as they line up like well disciplined soldiers on my page, with their blank expressions and uniformity.