Art Works Blog

Inside the NEA: What does Art Works mean to you?

If you're a regular reader of the Art Works Art Talks, you'll know that oftentimes we end our interviews by asking, "What does Art Works mean to you?" And if you've ever heard---or read---one of Rocco's speeches, then you know all about the trifecta of meanings we pack into that phrase as an agency. With that all being said, we thought it would be interesting to find out what "Art works" means to us as individuals---some of us working artists, some of us committed arts administrators, all of us in heart with the arts!

Michael Holtmann, Literature and Arts Education

I’ll admit it: I’ve worked at the NEA long enough so that when I hear “Art Works,” it’s hard for me not to hear Rocco saying it. But when I take a moment to reflect on what “Art Works” means to me, when I close my eyes and let my imagination take hold, I tend to envision the wonderful, mechanistic visual experiments of the early 20th Century. Man Ray’s daring and disorienting rayographs---such as this 1922 piece from the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s collection---come to mind. Paul Klee’s Twittering Machine from the same year never ceases to charm me; I think it might even be enhanced by a contemporary association with a certain ubiquitous social media site. Dziga Vertov’s The Man With The Movie Camera of 1929 is another striking and masterful example of an artist dazzled by movement, industry, inner workings---work!

I’m not sure I know why I find these particular pieces---and those similar to them---so mysterious and inspiring. Perhaps because they seem to interrogate the relationship between artists and the materials they work with? Perhaps because they seem both contemporary and of their own time? Perhaps simply because they’re puzzling and alluring and don’t offer up any answers. I like them very much.

Jason Schupbach, Design

It means art works to heal your soul, and it means the arts equals jobs and economic recovery. The creative economy has been proven to revitalize our communities and to grow employment and exports.

Carrie Holbo, Grants and Contracts

I recognize the opportunities and skills that my early exposure to the arts gave me, and I’m committed to giving that same experience to my nieces and nephews. I support the arts through my own private donations and ticket purchases. I buy books and attend movies and become immersed in great arts programming on PBS and radio. And I work---both full-time at the NEA and for the past two years as freelance photographer on the weekends, as well. I pay taxes and buy equipment and take classes. I work every day to improve the skills and knowledge I use in my job at the NEA and I work hard, too, to improve my skills as a photographer and small-business owner. I travel and support museums and restaurants and stores wherever I go. I own a home and support my local community. I am a consumer and an investor and a citizen.

My work in the arts makes all this possible. I work for the arts---but the arts provide far more in return than just a salary. Whenever I see a play or visit a park or pass by an interesting piece of public art, I think of all the people who helped make that happen. Not just the artists on stage (although I have the utmost respect and admiration for them, having once tried to be one of them), but also the people whose daily lives are spent in support of the arts.  Fundraisers, marketers, designers, choreographers, stagehands, accountants, engineers, architects, teachers, custodians, ushers, and security guards…all of these people work to make art. All of these people work to bring something beautiful and meaningful to life. We work. Art works.

Eleanor Steele, Literature

The phrase “Art Works” reminds me of slogans from those iconic WWII posters---“We Can Do It”  and “Loose Lips Sinks Ships.” It’s a fitting connection though as “Arts Works” is a sort of battle cry for artists and art lovers nationwide. Why talk about art using the language of combat? Really, what’s more appropriate? Art at work in its endless mediums and manifestations often implies contradiction and tension---conflict! In my mind, a successful painting, piece of choreography, novel, or public sculpture causes the viewer to  pause and think---to roll that image or idea around in their mind and wrestle with it. In turn, that individual takes his or her response and carries it out into the world, hopefully to engage with others and share what they’ve battled out in their own brain! So to me, “Art Works” toward transformation through conflict.

Mohamed Sherrif, Office of the Chairman

Art, to me, is multifaceted, but in its entirety, art is the truest expression of the human condition, consciousness. Art is the expression of the imagination that comes from the eternal realm of possibilities where consciousness stems. From consciousness, we arrive at art works. Art works is the apparatus that begets knowledge, the expansion of consciousness, and the awareness of that eternal realm of imagination and possibilities. Art works is the instrument of teaching.

Laska Hurley, Multidisciplinary Arts

It’s used as a way of self empowerment. It goes some place deep.  I’m sure the chaps who got together and painted the Hall of Bulls in caves of Lascaux understood the concept of Art Works as easily as those of us at 1100 Pennsylvania Ave.

The best thing about Art Works is that I can tell you to imaging the Hall of Bulls at Lascaux and you would be right on target because your imagination is alive and well fortified.

Marisa Marinos, Civil Rights/EEO

Art works has many meanings. In the more traditional sense I think of it as a noun that various art works are to be seen and heard and felt. I also take Art Works to be a verb, to mean that Art works as the vehicle to inspire people, to heal people, to bring people together, to educate people, to revitalize communities, and to enhance the lives of so many.

Ira Silverberg, Literature

Art Works like a high speed train to transport me from one place to the next.

Guiomar Ochoa, Office of the Chief of Staff

It’s funny how, as the mother of a toddler, I see art working in a totally different way now. When you go to a museum and see a painting or sculpture as a lone individual, you have your own impression/thoughts of that piece of art. They’re your own thoughts and people might influence you or help you see something  more or different in that piece but you’re still looking at it through your own eyes. Then, you have a child and that child is, in essence, your own work of art. That child starts observing art in his/her own way and you start seeing art working in a totally different way.

My two-year-old daughter seeing something I never saw in a Monet painting or a Degas sculpture is art working and that’s what “Art Works” means to me.

Kimberly Jefferson, Office of the Chief of Staff

To me, “Art Works” means that art works to inspire, entertain, build, (and often re-build), and heal. Art works to connect us to our shared humanity.

Roman Ivanchenko, Research and Analysis

I am new both to the NEA and to the arts field in general, so when I was directed to think of the meaning of “art works,”  what I thought of had nothing to do with my own experiences, but rather with my wife’s work. She is a mental health therapist, and on a number of occasions she turned to art, more specifically, encouraging clients to draw, as the means of letting her clients express their emotions. Not everyone has a good grasp of their emotional state. For a number of reasons, some people may not have the capacity of expressing their exact feelings (children, people suffering from severe trauma or going through seriously tough times, individuals with developmental problems), which is usually necessary for understanding the causes of and finding solutions to the problems that lead people to seek therapy. When people can’t express their feelings in other ways, by letting people engage in emotionally expressive drawing, a therapist is able to connect with his/her clients and be in a better position to help them. So, through my wife’s work, when I think of “art works,” I think of a tool for expressing emotions on the road to mental health recovery.

Victoria Hutter, Public Affairs

One of the greatest pleasures of art for me---whether  the doing, the observing, or the creating---is bound up intimately in practice, in work. I don't sense art and work as distinct. Sustained effort in pursuit of a goal is as much the art as what I'm trying to achieve. I love working toward the flow, navigating the back and forth of do and redo, supremely attentive, getting stronger, and finding beauty.

It's the part of ballet dancing that I did at one time and that I miss the most, solving the technical challenges of a piece of choreography or combination of steps. Unleashing myself from the hold of inner and outer chatter so that the encounter with the doing, the observing, or the creating is as clear as possible. Process as product. Work as art.

Want to hear more about what art works means to different people, browse our collection of Art Talks (select "Art Talk" under categories in the menu to the right), like these recent ones with actor F. Murray Abraham, filmmaker Ramona Emerson, and writer Debra Magpie Earling.

Add new comment