August 2019 Newsletter

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I dream my painting and I paint my dream.
~ Vincent van Gogh

On Art and Entertainment: Two Solitudes

by Timothy Green, originally published in the Press Enterprise

Last year, astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson ignited a fiery debate on a surprising topic with the following tweet: “Bears repeating: Creativity that satisfies & affirms your world view is Entertainment. Creativity that challenges & disrupts your world view is Art.”

It wasn’t long before hundreds of his 12 million followers were replying to vehemently disagree. Art is subjective, they argued, art can be entertaining, art can satisfy and affirm. They pointed to van Gogh’s self-portraits, Georgia O’Keefe’s flowers, Debussy’s “Clair de Lune.” How could a face, or flowers, or piano music disrupt a worldview? And how could they not be art? The consensus was that Tyson, as a scientist, shouldn’t be making such embarrassingly false proclamations about art. Stick to the stars, Neil!

My own Facebook friends list full of writers also seemed skeptical of even the attempt at a definition. “Art is beauty,” one friend wrote, “Don’t try to put it in a box.”

The whole episode reminded me of how poorly developed our understanding of art actually is—though perhaps that shouldn’t be surprising. The concept of art as something distinct from craftsmanship is only a few hundred years old, and didn’t exist until the Renaissance. Prior to the 17th century, “art” referred to the mastery of any skill, which is why we have words like “artifact” and “artisan” and “artificial” that have little in common other than etymology.

Philosopher Richard Wollheim called the question of defining art “one of the most elusive of the traditional problems of human culture,” but it seems to me the only problem is this infancy: we haven’t yet fully dissected the essence of art from its past entanglements with beauty and skill. For the bulk of human existence, the ability to pleasingly reproduce some aspect of the real or fictional world required rare mastery of the medium. To encounter a work of beauty, made with someone’s hands, would have been truly astonishing enough on its own.

That astonishment, though, overshadows the fact that something else was always working beneath the surface of beauty, something that has always been the true source of art’s power, dating back to the earliest cave paintings at Lascaux. Art is more than just beauty—a sunset is beautiful; the Crab Nebula is beautiful. Art is a vision of beauty through the hidden eyes of another human soul. It’s a voice calling out from the unimaginable and isolated depths of someone else’s psyche.

Perhaps the most important thing we’ve learned about ourselves in the last century is that we are so much more than our conscious thoughts. There are more layers to the human mind than an onion. The prefrontal cortex that governs our consciousness awareness physically and metaphorically sits atop a roiling and chaotic sea of desires and emotions and impulses that are only indirectly accessible to us. Research shows that even what we think of as decisions are often merely post-hoc rationalizations of reactions produced deeper down. That hidden psyche manifests in our dreams and in our actions, but it’s territory that’s very difficult to explore; there is no door to enter into those dark hallways, no way to communicate with those non-verbal, unknown aspects of the self.

What an artist does is find a way to let their own shadows speak. And when those lonely shadows speak, we listen.

In his book What Is Art?, Leo Tolstoy put it this way: “The business of art lies just in this—to make that understood and felt which, in the form of an argument, might be incomprehensible and inaccessible.”

Neil deGrasse Tyson might be a physicist and not an artist, but he understands art perfectly. Creativity that reproduces what we can already access is entertainment. And entertainment has value. But only creativity that provides a doorway to what we cannot access is art. Art always disrupts our worldview, but the worldview being disrupted isn’t political or philosophical—it’s psychological. Van Gogh’s self-portraits and Georgia O’Keefe’s flowers aren’t art because they’re beautiful or satisfying; they’re art because they’re seeing something in the world that we didn’t know we could also see. They’ve explored the unknown and brought us back a map—a poem, a painting, a song—an artifact—to help us expand the territory of our experience.

One of the responses to Tyson on Twitter said simply, “Art is love,” and on that point I agree. But only if we define love as Rainer Maria Rilke does: “Love consists in this, that two solitudes protect and touch and greet each other.” That is art.

Clay Class in Wrightwood

This summer, Keyboard Art and Mary Duman collaborated to offer classes in clay sculpture and pottery, and they will do so in the fall as well. One class will be offered for children ages 8 to 12 and another class for ages 13 to adult. Students will learn a variety of hand building skills, including pinch, coil, slab, and reductive sculpting techniques while creatively expressing themselves with clay. They will also glaze their artwork and it will be fired in a kiln so that they may take it home as a permanent keepsake. Private lessons are also available upon request.

Mary has been a high school ceramics and fine art instructor for 18 years. Her degrees include a B.F.A. with a concentration in ceramics and a B.S. in Art Education. She received a Jerome Fellowship Residency grant to do her artwork at the Northern Clay Center in Minnesota and was an Artist-in-Residence at Eczaserbasi, one of the largest ceramics factories in Turkey.

Beginner 1: August 29 – September 19
Beginner 2: September 26 – October 17

Ages 8-12, Thursdays 3:30-5:00 ($144)
Ages teenagers & adults, Thursdays 5:30-7:30 ($150 per 4-week session)

The Fall semester at Keyboard Art begins August 29th, including classes in art and sustainability, “Artists and the Elements,” science and humanities, yoga, and music. For more information, and to register for any of these classes, visit the Keyboard Art website.

This Month’s Events

Fire on the Mountain
12:00 p.m. – 8:30 p.m.

(Vivian Null Park, 1275 Hwy 2)
Centerstage Wrightwood and the Wrightwood Blues Society presents: Fire on the Mountain, featuring more then ten great bands. Gates open at 12:00 p.m. Purchase tickets at the gate or online through ticketleap.

Wrightwood Book Club
2:00 p.m. – 3:00 p.m.

(Wrightwood Library, 6011 Pine St)
Join in the discussion at the monthly Wrightwood Friends of the Library Book Club meeting. The book of the month will be Library Book by Susan Orlean.

Music in the Pines: Tribute to Motown
6:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m.

(Vivian Null Park, 1275 Hwy 2)
As a tribute to the Motown’s 60th anniversary, The Greg Jones Band and The Yve Evans Trio will perform in the parking lot between the banks. This is part of the free summer concert series.

Pine Needles Quilt Guild General Meeting
6:30 p.m. (start)

(Wrightwood Community Building, 1275 Hwy 2)
General meetings of the Pine Needles Quilt Guild are open to the public the second Tuesday of each month. August’s meeting will feature guest artist Kathi Wilson’s Trunk Show.

Looking Ahead

Wrightwood Book Club
2:00 p.m. – 3:00 p.m.

(Wrightwood Library, 6011 Pine St)
The book of the month will be White Oleander by Janet Fitch (who will be visiting town for the Wrightwood Literary Festival at the end of the month). Join in the discussion!

Pine Needles Quilt Guild General Meeting
6:30 p.m. (start)

(Wrightwood Community Building, 1275 Hwy 2)
General meetings of the Pine Needles Quilt Guild are open to the public the second Tuesday of each month. September’s meeting will feature guest artist Dora Cary’s “Make It Modern Trunk Show.”

Wrightwood Literary Festival (Day 1)
9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.

(Camp Mariastella, 5701 Acorn Drive)

The 5th annual Wrightwood Literary Festival kicks off at Camp Mariastella for a day of writing workshops and discussion. Guest faculty this year include poets Kim Dower, Raquel Vasquez Gilliland and Pavana Reddy, and memoirist Antonia Crane. The keynote speaker will be Janet Fitch, international bestselling novelist and author of White Oleander, which became a major motion picture. Registration is $60 and includes two workshops, the keynote address, and lunch. For more information on the festival, and to register, visit

Wrightwood Poetry Slam
7:00 p.m. – 9:30 p.m.

(Village Grind, 6020 Park Dr.)

For the 4th straight year, we’re bringing the lively spirit of slam poetry up into the mountains! Slam turns art into a competition, with poems olympic-style by volunteers from the audience. These are not your typical quiet poetry readings—the audience is encouraged to react, and the beer will be flowing as swiftly as the lines. The winner at the end of the night will earn $200. This event is free and open to the public, and always one of the highlights of the festival.

Wrightwood Literary Festival (Day 2)
9:00 a.m. – 1:30 p.m.

(Camp Mariastella, 5701 Acorn Drive)

Sunday’s session is free and open to the public, featuring readings by the guest faculty, book signings, a children’s poetry workshop, and an award presentation for the winners of the annual young poets competition.

Poem of the Month


by Sarah Pemberton Strong

Come upon later,
like a dream recalled at lunchtime.

Dark as deep water, bone cold.
Where is she now, the woman

who poured into a white cup?
She was standing on the lip

of the whole river with her plan
when the current called her and she had to

go: answer the knocking
that she in her not-knowing

called interruption.

from Rattle #34

Sarah Pemberton Strong is author of three books of poetry, most recently The Fainting Room. Order them here.

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