Alcorn: Austin’s soul to be shown in artworks festival

Published 10:04 am Friday, August 24, 2012

There are people who suppose Austin is a town without a soul. Like any small rural town in the Midwest, it just happened and there is nothing to distinguish it from the others. We assume this is not so or, at least, we hope it is not. But how do we know? People have talked about Austin and a few have written a little about it. But has Austin ever actually expressed itself or even represented itself — even to itself?

I can cite a few tentative examples and disconnected instances, but nothing like what is going to happen here Saturday and Sunday. Coming into what was for long the mundane downtown utilities plant will be something starkly non-utilitarian and grandly aesthetic. It presents itself as the Austin Artworks Festival.

If Austin indeed has a soul, it is in such ways it will become known. For this is what art is and what art does. A newspaper, such as this, is a medium of straightforward journalism. What you see and read is what you have. But this weekend will be art.

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Not everything offered as art, of course, is art. It would be unreasonable to expect everything presented at the Festival to have achieved the status of true art. Most presenters are new and untried, but it is through just such risks as this that craft develops into art.

But works of any medium that are art accomplish more than what first meets the eye or ear. A painting by Eric Anfinson, for instance, can make available something beyond what he put on the canvass. It can evoke something inside you that neither the painter nor you knew was there. If it does not, it may be you will have only looked without seeing. Let your eye be the gateway to your soul so you can see.

Listen to the musicians’ notes, but listen for what comes from the musician’s soul. The way vocalists sing words can speak more compellingly than their lexical meanings. An instrumentalist will play precisely the notes of a given composition others do, but the artist plays them distinctive to himself or herself. It is the artist’s soul crying out to your soul and inviting you to respond. Any hack can grind out a tune or just make noise; artistry excites more than it presents.

When you listen to Mike Cotter, you will hear his experiences, but you just might hear yours in his. The stories he tells are not his alone, but a discrete facet of the gem that is the human experience. And don’t be content with what he says, because there is more to the story than can be accommodated by mere words. In true artistry, more is said by the subtext or meta-narrative, and it is on this level that souls meet and commune.

As I have listened to the good folks behind Austin Artworks Festival and in the broader Vision 2020, I hear people who refuse to believe what too many local have been telling themselves for far too long: that Austin is entirely artless—and they mean it as a boast. “But we are simple people,” they tell me. What has too often been presented in Austin as simple is, in fact, shallow. There is beauty to the genuinely simple, found in its depth and integrity.

Those who conceived and now present the Festival believe in Austin, because they believe Austin has soul. They believe that artworks can display Austin’s soul, because this is what art does. They wish to attract to Austin others with soul who will become part of us and help us find our soul and enhance what we have by what they bring.

If Austin grills hamburgers at home on Saturday and Sunday or comes to the building only to see what the inside of a utility plant looks like, maybe the naysayers were right right along. But I am putting my bets on art and on Austin’s soul that we will experience at the Austin Artworks Festival.