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Energies Made Available 

Why artists must create, and an Arts! Arcata preview

Remove art from the world and not only would its beauty be blunted, but minds, hearts and even lives would be lost. If we had the proverbial dollar for every time an artist said, "Art saved my life," we could fund art in schools around the world. Not every artist suffers the sort of torment that forces him or her to choose between paintbrush and pills, but for those poor souls for whom pain provides constant companionship, art serves as a way forward through the darkness.

As in making music or the act of writing, creating art is a way of transferring the ache and angst inside to out -- and once outside, a funny thing happens: The power shifts to the creator. An artist (musician, writer) can examine the hurt, express it, alter it, banish it, celebrate it. The artist is no longer at the mercy of bad memories, current wounds, etc., but by purging them onto canvas or whatever, takes control, sheds, at least for the moment, whatever is dragging him or her down -- casts the demons out. Lose that ability, whether by slashing the funding for school art programs or the endless grind of an unrewarding 40-hour workweek coupled with domestic obligations, and the consequences vary from the quiet death of a creative soul to the obvious spilling of empty vodka bottles from the recycling tub.

On the flipside (critics of art "therapy," hush!) some artists' souls are imbued not with angst, but with joy, and for them, making art is a way to capture, to cement, the beauty of the world into something concrete and lasting. Other artists have brains constantly exploding with imagination, wondering why something doesn't exist and then working furiously to ensure it does.

Regardless of the impetus, at some point, art comes to the viewer. And what then? What do we hope, long for, deserve to get from our examination of such? A simple, "Oh, pretty!"? A complex and cathartic recognition of something we can't quite name? A moment of intrigue? Of inspiration?

Michael Ventura, my favorite writer about assorted topics related to the shadow side of our psyches, once wrote:

"Here was art fulfilling its deepest function: not inspiring a duplication or imitation of itself, and certainly not getting its significance from an analysis or critique, but giving ... a sense that life itself had just upped the ante, that the stakes were suddenly higher ... That is greatness in art, and it is the only greatness that counts ... Art is a repository of intense energy ... Art conserves and condenses the most delicate and the strongest of life's energies in a form where those energies become available to any passing stranger."

I love that: the idea that art is out there waiting to pounce, or to be pounced upon, leaving the spectator abruptly flushed with emotion, yanked from the shallows, hungry to embrace life's greater depths. If you've never found yourself rooted to the floor in front of a painting, stunned by its beauty, or felt tears welling during a concert because a song is just so damn right on, if you've never gone back and re-read a paragraph because you can't believe someone could nail it the way the author just nailed it, or been inspired to action because someone's art has tapped into your own passion -- well, you are missing out. We all need catharsis on occasion. This Friday night, you'll have a chance to find some during Arts! Arcata. The monthly event runs 6 to 9 p.m. throughout downtown Arcata and beyond.

"Beyond" includes over in Sunny Brae at Hunter Plaid Gallery where Brian Woida (also known as DJ Mantease and the coffee guy at Café Brio) shows innovative work inspired by his passion for record collecting mixed with a fondness for finding the sublime within the mundane. Woida's amassed a wall-sized record collection over the past 17 years and, much like John Cusack's character in High Fidelity, needs to reorganize the albums from time to time. "There's so many ways to sort them," Woida said. "Alphabetically? By genre? I thought it would be cool to sort them by color." Not only was it cool, but the results made him so happy, Woida documented them in photographs, which he then continues to play with in the pursuit of ever more intriguing results. "I'm kind of a joker in a sense," he explained. "I like to manipulate everyday objects in our lives to find the beauty, to question how we view the stuff we use." From the photographs have come tapestries, skateboards and silk scarves, with lamps potentially a next addendum to the Woida collection. "Music nerds will like that it's records," he said, "and people who don't like music will say, ‘Oh, wow, that's pretty.'"

Beverly Harper shows at Plaza Design and says, "Why I paint is because I'm consumed by seeing art in everyday life. It isn't possible to separate my life and art. I like to interpret the urban and rural life of my community in paintings that are not afraid to cross boundaries with my bold colors and dramatic compositions. The images drawn from my surroundings are honest expressions that go beyond style or medium. This new collection of 'Nocturne' oil paintings share the vibrant colors that are my signature, bringing each new painting to life."

At Soul to Soul: Roman Villagrana who "finds himself in his sketchbook processing the struggle of life while following a creative bliss. Ultimately the artist believes all the elements to be his medium as he believes that we have gone too far to deny that our thoughts and actions influence our surroundings and encourages others to be think about that."

Arcata Exchange features the work of Maureen McGarry, who has been creating in a variety of ways "to speak to the need for preserving and honoring the natural environment she calls home." Last spring, she coordinated the plastic bottle art installation at Arcata Elementary School in cooperation with the Arcata Community Recycling Center, and produced along with students a video documentary of the project called A Seagull's Dream.

Full Arts! Arcata listings can be found elsewhere in the Journal.

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Jennifer Savage

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