If we were posed with the question of” who is considered to be the first artist” we may find a multitude of diverse answers. For we would have to ask ourselves, what are we defining as “art”. For the sake of continuity, let me suggest that perhaps the walls of the El Castillo Cave in Cantabria, Spain served as the first canvas a mere 40,000 years ago. And then there are the very famous Lascaux Caves in France which host the wall drawings of horses, human figures, and abstract signs that we are quite familiar with… Maybe these prehistoric galleries are samples of our first graffiti artists. Alas, I would have to say “no” to the latter since the only means of a platform to draw upon were the cave walls…for all other natural elements such as bark would have disintegrated…and unlike materials for today’s artist … there was no paper, cloth, or even papyrus.
So, what is a work of art? We all have our own opinion, which varies in styles and individual favorites with the same degree of assortment as the changes in weather; and if you rather not trouble yourself with a personal constitution defining what makes up “a work of art” … there is always the critic that does… and will surely bestow their “expert” opinion.
So, to help us weed through some ideas regarding art, I bring to you today’s esteemed thinker: William Carlos Williams (1883 -1963), medical doctor and writer who influenced modern 20th century poetry with his unconventional approach to imagery, “lack of form”, and the use of the “American language”. Williams was considered a modernist in his style; writing a prolific body of work that included essays about literature, music, and painters. He contributed to literary magazines and was a highly sought after lecturer. In 1963 he was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in poetry for Pictures from Brueghel.
Let us pause today for Mr. Williams and read from his Selected Essays (1931), “Against the Weather: A Study of the Artist”…taking note of his honest approach with the subject…and when you are finished you may contemplate the caves…is it indeed art?
“… I’ve been writing a sentence, with all the art I can muster. Here it is: A work of art is important only as evidence, in its structure, of a new world which it has been created to affirm.
Let me explain.
A life that is here and now is timeless. That is the universal I am seeking: to embody that in a work of art, a new world that is always “real”.
All things otherwise grow old and rot. By long experience the only thing that remains unchanged and unchangeable is the work of art. It is because of the element of timelessness in it, its sensuality. The only world that exists is the world of the senses. The world of the artist… That is the artist’s work. He might well be working at it during a bombardment, for the bombardment will stop. After a while they will run out of bombs. Then they will need something to fall back on: today. Only the artist can invent it. Without today everything would be lost and they would have to start bombing again as they always do, to hide the lack. If the artist can finish before the attack is over it will be lucky. He is the most important artisan they have.
The work an artist has to do is the most important creation of civilization. It is also its creator…”