Let me emphasize this at the outset: My mother is an excellent writer and speller of words.
That said, I feel confident in stating there are many wonderful artists who are lousy at writing and spelling. Some do not follow instructions particularly well, either. They often seem to view orders as mere suggestions or, perhaps, jumping-off points for individual creative activity.
It can drive more linear thinkers bonkers.
Picture this: my mother in the garden. Her assignment: hoe a row of beans. The likely outcome: weed around three bean plants; dig two potatoes; pull some carrots; eat a tomato. (Sorry Mom, writers use the material life hands them.)
In contrast to my mother’s butterfly-like approach to gardening – float hither and thither, willy nilly, from one plant to another – I’m more of the stereotypical ant, the person who hoes the row of beans from beginning to end. Once started, I typically prefer to see projects through to their completion.
My mother likes to mix things up. Her thinking, or so I think is her thinking, goes something like this: Why dutifully attend to boring beans only, when you can add a bit of drama and cheap garden thrills in the form of potatoes, carrots and tomatoes?
(Actually, the older I get, the more I find myself in harmony with my mother’s approach, in theory if not always in practice. Getting things done, checking off lists; conformity can be life-deadening. You know, what Ursula K. Le Guin said: “It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.”)
My mother is all business when it comes to her life’s work – producing art. With brush in hand, she is fiercely focused. Painting is her passion as well as her job. So she puts in the number of studio hours necessary to be good at what she does and to make a living doing it.
And I think that’s pretty cool.
Given my experiences, you can probably understand why I believe it might be best to provide visual artists a certain latitude, at least when it comes to spelling or obedience.
A few misspelled words and failure to strictly adhere to guidelines … it doesn’t seem like that big a deal to me, frankly.
Some members of the Sylva Public Arts Committee feel otherwise.
Meeting last week to review applications from painters vying for the job of painting Sylva’s first downtown mural, a couple of committee members seemed overly concerned about artists’ spelling abilities and whether they had checked off various application requirements.
There is a $10,000 artist payday on the line. And yes, it is important Sylva’s nascent public art program get off to a strong start. The town does need to hire someone with the requisite professionalism to see the job through.
I get all that.
But does it matter, really, if the artists can spell and follow orders to a T?
Maybe lighten up a bit?
My suggestion: Look instead at each artist’s work and carefully review individual work history. It is the end product and their ability to get the work done that’s going to count – not spelling, not dutifully checked-off applicant tasks.
When it comes to artists, sometimes you get a lot more if you are willing to give a little.
Quintin Ellison is general manager of The Sylva Herald.