Recently I read an editorial in the Huffington Post called “Twelve Art World Habits to Ditch in 2012.” The author, Matt Gleason, had insightful and arguable opinions about customs of the arts business that may be about as practical as the customary stoning in Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery.” After I finished, I kept thinking about one snarky comment he made about fool-proof, revolutionary success models. He wrote “The first caveman who left the cave was the first performance artist and nobody has topped him since.”
It’s a fun way to say “Get over yourself,” and I suppose it’s true. The first hunter to string a tiger’s saber tooth on vine and wear it around his neck was the first jeweler. The first lady who got tired of storing river water in a woolly mammoth bladder and made a clay pot was the first ceramicist. The first guy who looked at his cave wall and thought “This is where I will tell our story,” is the first 2-D artist. Nobody has topped them since.
But wait… If people have seen this stuff before, then why do they still covet it, spend hard-earned money for it and cherish it? The answer is because it is still groundbreaking. When you literally break ground, chances are you are not putting a shovel in virgin soil. You’re uncovering or rediscovering something humans have already seen, done or experienced. Is the feeling any less? Isn’t it even better when you realize through an artifact that someone had the same experience, and you are only separated by the construct of time? The speleologists who found the Chauvet Cave paintings were just as awed (if not more) than the humans who first enjoyed the illustrations. At that moment of rediscovery, both parties were suddenly connected across thousands of years.
The arts council is, in fact, selling one of the oldest human concepts, yet every year we have to dream up new and convincing reasons why you should come to Kentucky Crafted: The Market. After 30 years, it’s hard to top yourself. So this year, the arts council is “breaking ground.” We are recognizing that every art form you see at The Market is the product of traditions from all of human history. You have been to a market (this is an old idea), you have seen a necklace, a clay pot and a wall hanging. What you have not seen is the cutting edge techniques and designs these artists use to make them. Your need and desire to decorate your cave with beautiful, useful things and adorn your fur-less body will only grow stronger. I promise you, the awe will still be there — like removing the rubble obscuring a cave grotto unseen for thousands of years.
Remember, the most recent guy to walk out of the cave was a performing artist, too. Although he would never top the first guy, the feeling was still the same. The sun was blinding, the air was thin and clean and there were suddenly generations’ worth of new possibilities just in front of him. So what if it had been done before; it had never been done the way he was about to do it.
Sarah Schmitt, arts access director
To read more about the Market, read Ed’s article in the upcoming March issue of The Crafts Report featuring Melissa Senetar and Gray Zeitz. These are just a few of the artists coming to the Lexington Convention Center this March who work in traditions while standing on the cutting edge.