Sunday, August 7, 2011

Durable Art Terms

I love paint, the way it flows and mixes and moves. I also love words, how they flow, what they mean, their rhythm.
Let me get something off my chest.
Compared to solving our national debt problems, using the word archival, rather than the word durable when describing an art item or process is not a huge issue.  Durable seems more useful in describing jeans or all-terrain vehicles than art products, and I get that.  Archival is a cool art word, like using juxtapose instead of next to. We creatives do like our fancy terms.
 The word “archival” means the ability to be archived, or saved. I looked it up. I am also supported by the good folks at AMIEN, a website resource for artists dedicated to "providing the most comprehensive, up-to-date, accurate, and unbiased factual information about artists' materials ", which of course includes proper terminology.
 An archive is a place for saving, like a warehouse, a library, or other safe place where one-of-a-kind items can be kept. Thus, to use the term archival when talking about artwork would mean that you believe said artwork should be stashed on a shelf in a warehouse,  next to a crystal skull or the holy grail or the very first Life magazine. 
Well, of course it could be, but we’d rather you didn’t.
Somewhere, sometime, the term archival came to mean something different in the art world. Supply stores, gallery owners and artists alike now use it to mean durability.  When an artist says, “I use only archival materials”, what they mean is “I use materials that will not deteriorate with time.” It is implied that “time” means centuries, not simply years.  It also implies worth, since no one would bother to archive anything that wasn’t valuable. This does not include the little old lady on the corner who has archived every newspaper, magazine and hamburger wrapper since the dawn of time. That's something different.
What I really wonder about, the issue that artists don’t like to admit they think about, is whether durable, or archival (to join the unwashed masses) is really necessary or desirable. 
Do I want everything I’ve created to last for 300-600 years? Everything?  Isn’t there something to be said for scarcity or winnowing out?
What if I botch a project, then what?  There is a landfill out there somewhere filling up with awful, half-finished art projects (not just mine) that simply will not deteriorate and become part of Mother Earth again, at least not for a very long time.  What will archeologists think when they tunnel into this landfill in a thousand years?  Can you see it now, a group of students and their mentor in pit helmets and cargo pants squatting over a pile of freshly unearthed rubble, carefully swabbing the remains with soft brushes for fear of destroying something immensely important .  Is it a sacrificial pit from an unknown civilization? A refuse dump? A modern Lascaux Cave? Unbeknownst to them, they have stumbled upon an archive of durable, long-lasting, extra fortified throw-aways the artist hoped would never see the light of day.
I use durable, long lasting, reliable, stable materials.  I like the way they feel and how they work. I love the idea that your great-grandkids or great- great-grandkids will someday argue over who gets a P. Scarborough painting from your estate, in part because it was well made. 

And rather than file it away, archived next to a crystal skull and CIA documents from Area 51, it’ll hang out in the open, in a place of honor, to be enjoyed by another generation of art lovers.


Pilgrim/Heretic said...

Ooo, interesting! (sez she who spends an awful lot of time in archives.) There's much to be said for the durable, in that you don't want your paper to yellow, or your canvas to become brittle, or your pastels to melt too easily. Stuff should last as long as you need it to (and I want my P. Scarboroughs on the living room wall to be there for a good long time!!)

On the other hand, there's beauty in the ephemeral too (another nifty word). Think of the Navajo or Tibetan sand paintings, or the narrow street I saw this summer "painted" with designs of flower petals for a religious procession; they're meant to be part of a shared moment, and swept away when the moment has passed. Or there's the art in an engaging conversation, or a sunset, any of those fleeting moments that are all the more lovely for being unarchivable.

Either way, the importance is in the interaction - you can tuck stuff away for limited connections with special people over the next million years, or you can leave it out in the sun for us all to enjoy, and take the chance that it will fade.

Patty said...

Beautifully written P/H. Thanks for saying what was in my heart in such a lovely way.

Pilgrim/Heretic said...

Hey, you started it. :)

Patty said...

; )