"Faith is the bird that feels the light and sings when the dawn is still dark. 
In effect, the people who change our lives the most begin to 
sing to us while we are still in darkness. If we listen to 
their song, we will see the dawning of a new part of ourselves."

Rabindranth Tagore

Existential Intelligence is the sensitivity and capacity to engage questions about human existence – how we got here, whether we have a purpose, and whether there is meaning in Life. Existential intelligence embraces the exploration of aesthetics, philosophy, religion and values like beauty, truth, and goodness. A strong existential intelligence allows human beings to see their place in the big picture, be it in the classroom, community, world, or universe.

First proposed by Howard Gardner, existential intelligence is one of nine theorized intelligences and is considered to be amoral – that is, it and the other eight categories of human intelligence can be used either constructively or destructively.

Friday, May 28, 2010

What Makes Art Original?

As anyone who visits the existential neighborhood knows, I like to spend time making whenever I can.

Making is process, and process is good. It enriches, informs and expands the experience of being human. Making should be defined broadly. Sometimes it’s an act where the brain participates, but the hands lead – as in following a pattern to sew an apron or a quilt, embroidering a design sold as a kit, or painting by number.

But sometimes making means the brain leads and the hands follow. Designing a pattern for an apron, printing a unique silkscreen design, or painting a one of a kind watercolor landscape engages the brain first. The brain figures out what to do and how to do it, and the hands, with a little luck, oblige.

Making is never bad. Most of us start in one place but eventually our interests evolve somewhere else. We liked completing someone else’s design but now we want to do our own designing. The desire has been ignited to create something original.

And that’s the million dollar question. What makes art original?

It’s a question we can’t ignore because it comes up in exhibition settings all the time. You’ve seen it on the entry form. All work must be original and that of the artist. But what about all those cool commercial tools?

A few of the choices available to anyone with a computer and a credit card:
- digital embroidery programs
- non-copyrighted clip art books and CD’s
- free use photographs from any number of websites
- rubbing plates and commercial rubber stamps and stencils

If I gave ten people the same set of tools gleaned from the list above, added a deadline, and left the other parameters wide open, this is what would happen: there would be a few similarities in the finished work, but there would also be huge, creative leaps of difference in how each artist chose to use the tools.

So should those tools be in or out? It’s hard to be definitive. Were I a juror, it would come down to the creative use of recognizably commercial tools or images. I’d reject almost anything that was clearly derivative – so that puts extra pressure on anyone (including me) who chooses to use tools everyone else will recognize! A big challenge is to get beyond derivative. Claim the tool. Make it yours. Use it so effectively your viewers will swoon with admiration. Win over the juror with your clever stroke of brilliance.

Good work surprises, offends, delights but most of all, makes the audience think. No one ever threw a Robert Rauschenberg collage out of an exhibition because it used familiar references. Good work references the known and adds an element of the unknown. It's the surprise that resonates.

Go into the studio. Take our your stamps or your rubbing plates, or your stock of clip art. Sit with it and ask yourself What If?

And don’t be discouraged if the answer isn’t immediately forthcoming. But start by asking the question. Play with the tools. And open your brain to the possibilities. Your hands might quite possibly follow.


  1. good post. "what if " just might be my middle name. and a good place to start and see where it leads. today i will create an original day like no other, colored with my paints and reflecting my thoughts and hold in my hands some answers to "what if"

  2. I have purchased many tools but never used them because I didn't know how to incorporate them effectively. At least that was my excuse. I will get out my rubbing plates and those fibers and paints and just play. Somehow I need to remove any thought of making art or anything of lasting value--just play! Explore. Why is 'play' so scary? But what if I just try it? I may learn that I don't want to incorporate those methods into my work, but what if I see some potential interesting ...Hmmm...

  3. yes yes yes! Areally good post - just what I would have wanted to say if I could have found the words!