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Home » ARTSY FARTSY » JEAN SHEPHERD–Why Create? & ARTSY (5) Raven Rattle

JEAN SHEPHERD–Why Create? & ARTSY (5) Raven Rattle

Why do people exert the considerable energy required to create stuff? Why did Shep?

What follows are my thoughts/interpretations of why Shepherd did what he did, in part contributed by my own attempts at self-interpretation. Any comments and additions are welcomed.

Left-Brain-Right-Brain

Looks great, doesn’t it!

Relates to left-brain/right brain.

(I made the mistake of checking the googled source:

it’s about ads and marketing. Wooden cha know!)

SELF-EXPRESSION

For me, there is a great enjoyment I have in giving expression to my ideas and feelings. This is irrespective of the possible quality of the result. From following Shepherd, I believe without doubt that he got great joy in self-expression. I believe that most artists in all fields enjoy expressing themselves. Some claim that this amounts to an obsession. Sometimes I feel this–I don’t want to stop for food or sleep.

PURE ESTHETIC PLEASURE

There is pleasure in creating something that one considers to be “a work of art.”

PURE ENJOYMENT OF PROVIDING INFO/EDUCATION/ ENTERTAINMENT

Shepherd, along with most other creators had this joy.

The above categories involve “self-actualization,” the being at one’s

best/highest level that humans are capable of.

See Abraham Maslow–including my post on his work.

PURE EGO

This ain’t so bad. All of us need some of this, and artists tend to have it to a very high degree. It may even help them achieve all the other attributes listed here.

YA GOTTA MAKE DOUGH

This ain’t so bad. Most all of us gotta do this–unless born rich or happen to fall into it. One of the issues most artists have in life is how to balance the need to create with the necessity to make money to obtain food and lodging and a few goodies.

I don’t know how Jean Shepherd could have balanced art and money in any other way than he did. He might have continued–until he died–with his great art of improvised radio work at the sacrifice of more money and renown–but this would probably have driven his ego mad. I think that one of my heroes, Norman Mailer, determined and succeeded in promoting himself to the crass, real world in ways that for him, allowed him to write even his lesser writings in ways that, on some level, also produced work that had artistic as well as monetary value.

money

♥  ♥   

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Raven Rattle

I’m fascinated by raven rattles. These are objects used in ritual ceremonies by Northwest Coast Indians. They are carved with a raven and several lesser figures on or incorporated into it, using the typical, stylized shapes of Northwest Coast art. Ravens are usually depicted with something in their beaks. This is a “box of sunlight,” which the mythological trickster-bird opened and gave to humans (in a similar way to Prometheus giving light–fire/knowledge–to humans in the Greek myth).

The main part of the body is the raven. On its back there is usually a red-colored, naked human with his tongue out, being given (at the tip of the giver’s tongue,) some important attribute. Sometimes the giver is a bird, sometimes a frog, etc. On the bottom side of the rattle, carved in slight relief, is a bird’s head with large eyes and various abstract shapes in typical Northwest style.

ARTSY rattles.museum0005

Vancouver Museum exhibit.

When I was designing “Chiefly Feasts,” a large temporary exhibit of Northwest Coast art that would travel to several other museums in the U. S. and Canada, I flew and drove to see and consult at other museums, with Allison and our young son. I’ve seen many actual raven rattles in museums such as the American Museum of Natural History, Chicago’s Field Museum, Vancouver University Museum Victoria.

ARTSY. Chiefly F. by eb

My design sketch for one section of the exhibit.

For several years, every time I walked through the Northwest Coast permanent hall of the American Museum of Natural History where I worked, I’d stop and look at the good one on display. When our museum did a temporary exhibit brought in from another museum, I had the chance to hold a fine example during set-up time.

ARTSY rattle & eb

When I had more brown hair than white.

I’m holding it upside down

as one does during a native ceremony.

A conservator will tell you that the white gloves

are to protect the artifact.

From books, magazines, catalogs, I collect photos of raven rattles by the score.

ARTSY rattles.AMNH,etc0002

Clockwise from lower left: At auction, $30,000-50,000;

Three views of a specimen at AMNH; For sale at a gallery.

In my belief, many I’ve seen are not well carved. I imagine that a good one would go for many times what I ever could afford. As much as I try to collect real stuff, a few years ago I encountered a replica for sale on ebay, thought it compared very well with photos of really good ones, and bought it for $125. The seller, owner of a NW-Coast gallery, had commissioned a half-dozen, made by a family of Indonesian carvers!

A major issue for me is: I’d rather have an authentic one carved by and used by the actual people of the Northwest Coast. But considering all the inferior specimens, actually distastefully/poorly carved authentic ones I’ve seen (even those beyond what I might one day be able to afford) would I really want such a poorly done job facing me nightly? Other than its aura of authenticity, it would be one that fails in all the visual attributes that make raven rattles in the ideal such a joy to behold. My Indonesian replica is better made than most authentic ones I’ve seen—it gives me an esthetic pleasure I’d never get from a badly carved authentic one that visually offends me. Faced with the reality, I’ve denied my ideal principle. I’m very pleased to view nightly in front of me in our living room, my Indonesian replica.

ARTSY rattle.mine0005

MY RAVEN RATTLE

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