Director's Letter: Creative Alchemy

Creative Alchemy

As artists work, they think a lot about what it is they are doing. Even art about not thinking takes concentration and a plan (think of the Surrealists' automatic drawings and some forms of expressionism, for example). By the time the work is ready for sharing, there is usually a story behind it—some of these stories are shared, others are private. Regardless, though, once objects are launched by their artists, they orbit the world on paths that cannot be predicted in advance or controlled by their creator. This is especially true today—when we share so freely across the internet, images of art rapidly become "ours."

The present pandemic has radically disrupted where and how we interact with art, but not why we do so—the power of connecting with art remains strong. Perhaps no one phenomenon better represents this shift than the re-creation of much-loved artworks in the homes of people in isolation—and the Hood's collection is right there in the mix. Georgia O'Keeffe in laundry. Elias Sime in cake. Alma Thomas in face paint. And mises-en-scene of 19th-century genre paintings.

If we step back from this a bit, the larger impact of this trend is remarkable. On the surface, it is the work of bored "quarantiners," but there is something much more promising going on with this wonderful trend. People around the world have found a way to enter into the work of art, to become a part of it, to allow it to flow through them in exceptionally moving ways. Any art educator will share their glee at this process. To become a work of art is to internalize that work deeply, to spend time with it, to make it our own.

When a musician "covers" a song written by another, they must first learn the notes and words carefully, coming face to face (virtually) with the artist's experience—both the problems encountered and the solutions found. The quiet elegance of certain passages, or the disturbing violence of others, comes to the surface and a special bond develops between the original writer and the interpreter. Conceptually, they are together now. The song has become both what it was and something new.

This is creative alchemy.

We have this very process blooming in our presence today. Art sent out into the world, both recently and long ago, has landed in the homes and hearts of people everywhere, people who are showing the ultimate sign of respect for creation—re-creation. The cycle of art continues. Makers make. Museums and galleries share. Visitors respond.

No single entity completely owns art—it has always been a community asset. The Hood, like museums around the world, keeps art in orbit, and it has been a joyous discovery for me that we are still doing so despite the pandemic. In fact, it is because of the pandemic that we are sharing a global impulse to turn toward art to reconnect with ourselves, our friends, our lives. When we connect, we are better for it. Even in isolation, we find exhilaration and deep meaning in our relationship to art.

So get out your costume box, recipe box, or art box and join the Hood and the rest of the world in interacting with the art you love.

John R. Stomberg
Virginia Rice Kelsey 1961s Director


Written May 05, 2020