Gone Away ~ The journal of Clive Allen in America

Lawton Arts Festival
(This article forms part of the Journal that I am writing to describe my impressions of America since arrival in September, 2004. To begin reading this Journal from the beginning, click here.)

Kathy and I attended the Lawton Arts for All Festival a few days ago. I was hoping to make a discovery of some great artist as yet unknown to the world but, as you will see, I did not quite realize my ambition.

The fact is, I must admit rather shamefacedly that I was deflected from my purpose almost immediately. In heading for the tents where all the painters and potters displayed their wares, I was ambushed by a group of musicians. They had set up at the edge of an open square and their sounds drifted out to infuse the whole area with their presence. I was hooked immediately and dragged without complaint to sit and listen, all thoughts of the visual arts driven from my mind.

They had an unfair advantage, you see. Their music was a polished blend of Andean and modern sounds and was produced upon a variety of South American flutes to the accompaniment of guitar. I am just a sucker for Andean flutes; I love the haunting and wistful sounds they produce. Add to this the fact that both musicians were expert in their art, fascinating to watch as they produced such beautiful sounds without apparent effort, and you will understand how I came to be sidetracked so easily.

Andean Nation they are called, a group from Albuquerque, New Mexico, comprising just two guys, a guitarist and flautist (with some electronic assistance to provide a backing of virtual drums). I was aware that the music they played was, to some extent at least, aimed at their expected audience; these were modern tunes played upon ancient instruments but the effect was very pleasant. There was no doubt in my mind that they also performed "the real Andean music" when given the chance and I was later proved correct in this.

When duty and conscience managed to get through to me, we found that we could not leave without first inspecting the little stall that had been set up to sell the group's products. Here I found that they had several CDs on sale, many of which were recordings of more traditional Andean music. We bought two CDs, one traditional, one modern. And we also gave in to temptation and are now the proud owners of the smallest of the Andean panpipes, an instrument that I have since found out to be a Siku-Chuli. The most amazing thing is that I can actually get some sounds out of this instrument. That is enough for me; I know I have not the musical ability to ever play the thing properly.

Then at last we moved on to the visual arts. And I was surprised to see how many artists were present. Here was a small town of open-fronted tents laid out into streets and squares and alleyways, each tent filled with the works of a painter or potter, and the crowd wandered through the maze as though browsing a supermarket. We joined them.

Pottery and jewelry are not really my interest so we glanced at these and moved on quickly. It was the paintings that I wanted to see. They were there in quantity and, as I began to realize, in quality too. I have been to arts and craft fairs in Britain and the quality is, if I may put it tactfully, variable. This was very different, the technical ability of all the artists quite clearly very high. I don't think I've ever seen so many excellently executed paintings all together in one place before. There was not a single poor technician amongst them.

This has given me reason to ponder over the last few days. Were the American art colleges that much more effective than the British equivalent? I doubted this, having seen the works of a few very well trained British artists. I think the reason must be that in Europe arts festivals are not the natural habitat of the trained artist but the amateur. The "professionals" are all trying for the galleries and art dealers, leaving the field of the fairs and festivals to the lesser mortals. At least, I hope this is so; otherwise the outlook for art in Britain is not good.

In Oklahoma, however, art is very much alive. The artists were almost all local, just a few wandering in from other states. The subjects were pretty much what you would expect in the great plains: landscapes, wildlife, people of the west. And that is as it should be for there is endless inspiration in a country of such expansive beauty with so varied and colorful a natural inhabitant. As I have said, the technical ability of the artists was very apparent in all that I saw.

But I'm a picky sort of guy when it comes to art. Having once had ambitions in painting, I kid myself that I know a thing or two about it. I was looking for that extra something, that spark of life that springs from the canvas and grabs hold of your collar, shouting "Look at me, I'm different!" To my surprise, I found it not in the paintings but in the work of one of the few photographers exhibiting.

When we came upon these pictures, I was unsure whether they were photographs or paintings. They are large depictions of flowers, beautifully presented in soft tones against dark backgrounds. I am no great fan of flower paintings or photographs but these were so stunning that they could not be ignored. We talked to the artist, David Gill, and he confirmed that they were photographs digitally mastered to achieve the effects he wanted.

I overheard a discussion of whether this new science of image manipulation by computer can be considered as art. My view is that, if the result is arresting and effective, it matters not what technique was used to achieve it. I have used digital image editors myself and I can assure you it is not just a matter of pressing a button and having the work done for you. To have the vision of what you want the end product to be, the artist's eye for composition and the skill to apply just the right kind of manipulation in the right way at the right point, that's where the art comes in. The computer is as much a tool as the paintbrush and it's the person guiding the tool that counts.

And David Gill's work is outstanding in its composition and appeal. His pictures glow with life.

So I had found what I hoped to but in an unexpected area. We drifted around the rest of the exhibition and wound up watching a performance of tap dancing by some high school kids. They were very good, inch perfect in precision and timing. Their parents and families, gathered in the audience, had reason to be proud. On the way back we came across a man playing a North American flute, a familiar sound even though it had never struck me before that a version of the Andean instrument had been present in the North as well. Something else that I must find the time to investigate.

And my American education continues. I see now that the rumors are true: art is alive and living in the States. That makes me happy. Though I have had the privilege of seeing the works of the Dutch masters in all their glory, there is something just as exciting in seeing a vibrant and growing artistic tradition in a new world.

It just amazes me that I should discover this in little old Lawton, OK.

(to go directly to the next entry in the Journal, click here)


Amazing that they should have so many types of artistic endeavour represented in one festival - even tap dancing high schoolers. Again your eye for detail and apparent appreciation for the arts shows through and makes us wish we too had been partakers of such an event.
I agree about the use of computer imaging - it is the vision as much as the execution and the tools that makes something art as opposed to just a "produced" thing.
Date Added: 20/05/2005

Gone Away
Well, I guess "arts" covers just about everything from playing the spoons to clog dancing, Ned. It made an interesting mix, there being musicians and dancing as well all those skills we associate with the word "art". And now I am remembering all the other things that I forgot to mention...
Date Added: 20/05/2005

One thing I really miss is going to arts festivals and crafts shows. I haven't done that in years, really, since I moved out of my college house, wherein I had female roomates who a.) paid attention to the schedule of such events and b.) asked me to tag along so I could carry the heavy sh*t they bought. ;)

I'm Glad those Okies are giving you such good stuff to write about, Gone. Lots of blogs out there that recount a trip here or there, but none I have ever read can turn it into such an interesting narrative.
Date Added: 20/05/2005

Gone Away
Kind of you to say so, Josh. Thanks. I guess as a foreigner I have to go to all these things to acclimatize myself. ;)
Date Added: 20/05/2005


Amazing that they should have so many types of artistic endeavour represented in one festival - even tap dancing high schoolers.

Ahh, but this is Oklahoma, Ned, where 4H still holds sway and teenagers still voluntarily do the dishes. ;)
Date Added: 20/05/2005

So its not just Australia with a vibrant and celebrated arts culture then!

I was a bit concerned when you said "I was aware that the music they played was, to some extent at least, aimed at their expected audience; these were modern tunes played upon ancient instruments but the effect was very pleasant." Imagining some native south american in his poncho and sombrero wistfully banging out 'oops i did it again' to a samba beat in order to entertain the kids, but thankfully my first impression was wrong.

I too am developing a real appreciation for photographt. My current job, working in the image department of a large news agency, means i'm in contact with about 1500 new images a day. Some are horrific (children with their legs hanging off due to over zealous allied troop activity) through beautiful landscapes and endearing wildlife photography. These images are undoctored but i have to agree, art is art and whatever the format and whatever process is involved it is the end result that counts. After all no one writes a play to be read from a book by a single reader. It is the collective that counts. Those that argue against the manipulation of photos are the same as those that there was no room for the surrealist
Date Added: 20/05/2005

Bugger. The final line should have read 'Those that argue against the manipulation of photos are the same as those that SAID there was no room for the surrealist IN THE WORLD OF THE PAINTER'

That'll teach me to post when eating huh
Date Added: 20/05/2005

Gone Away
Very true, Keef. And it was the same guys who threw their hands up in horror at the very thought that photography could be art. If we listened to those guys, we'd still be slapping colored mud on cave walls...
Date Added: 20/05/2005

Gone Away
I caught yer drift, Keef. ;)
Date Added: 20/05/2005

Very true. Thankfully the days of some over zealous human daubing their impression of the days events on someone elses wall are long gone.....oh hang on a minute......Bloody vandals
Date Added: 20/05/2005

Gone Away
Some traditions die hard it seems. :D
Date Added: 20/05/2005

Have a look at this article http://tinyurl.com/7r4cm

Just following on from the caveman thing. I rather like Banksy, he is often political (though with no agenda) and his work tends to be thought provoking (or just a jab at the establishment)
Date Added: 20/05/2005

Gone Away
Wonderful story, Keef. The fulfillment of our dreams of poking fun at the idiocies of the intelligentsia...
Date Added: 20/05/2005

John Evans
The problem for me is "conceptual" art which is more about shocking a response out of people than providing a life-enhancing experience. I really don't want to travel all the way up to London to see an exhibition of excrement or an unmade bed. Bad art has one good effect though, it forces us back on our own resources. We have to make our own. Blogging is probably a form of that somewhere down the line. Clive, you've probably done it already, but it would be interesting to know why you went to the States and what you did before. Aren't I a nuisance?
Date Added: 20/05/2005

Gone Away
I agree with you that "conceptual" art is not art at all, John. In an earlier post I mentioned that a pile of bricks is not a work of art, it's just a pile of bricks. I like your comment that this forces us back on our own resources, however; I will have to think about that one. And of course blogging is an art form - we just haven't realised it yet. :)

Why did I come to the States? The answer is simple really: I married an American lady (Kathy) and we tried living in England for a few years. She became homesick, however, and it seemed logical to move to America, particularly as I have changed country a few times before and knew full well what I was letting myself in for, therefore.

In my last six years in England I worked with 14 to 16 year old kids who had been excluded from school. That's a long story in itself but suffice to say that, even though it was a job that had great rewards in seeing kids turn from self destruction towards hope, six years is about as long as anyone can stand such pressure - another reason why it was easy to decide to emigrate.

Before that I had a variety of jobs, ranging from operating machinery in a car factory to management of a supermarket and a Day Care Centre for the elderly. I have always taken the first job that comes along and, as a result, have a somewhat chequered CV. My only qualification for expounding upon art is that I studied Fine Arts at university and once fancied myself as God's gift to painting (fortunately, that particular delusion didn't last long).

So that's me, I guess (funny how we define ourselves by job description). I hope it answers the question.

But you're no nuisance, John. After all, we secretly love talking about ourselves, don't we? ;)
Date Added: 20/05/2005

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