Arts pull us away from the everyday

Published 7:31 am Sunday, September 4, 2016

I’ll be honest: I enjoy interviewing artists.

I mean, where else are you going to come up with a gem of a quote like this? “None of that was planned, like, ‘I’m going to paint a pregnant elephant with a machine gun,’” Jason Felten said. “It was just colors.”

Felten, the 2001 Austin High School Artist of the Year, told me this as he was talking about his impressionistic paintings from his booth at last weekend’s fifth annual ArtWorks Festival. And, spoiler alert: Yes, his painting did feature the black outline of a pregnant elephant holding a machine gun.

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Felten doesn’t paint your typical landscapes, he paints creative collages of colors and then explores his ideas and adds a focal point or element to his paintings.

A few minutes before talking with Felten, I spoke with Micah Ofstedahl about his biology-inspired surrealistic paintings.

Part of the fun of covering artists is listening to their ideas unspool during an interview. Ofstedahl talked about taking inspiration for his paintings from single-celling microorganisms from the deep sea and a bee’s eye. Then he spoke of the branching patterns and their essentialness to life.

“To me, it’s a very important structure, and how we see that at different levels in nature and it’s always providing something, like blood or the water or nutrients,” he said. “… It’s obviously a very important structure or pattern at so many different levels in nature.”

This shows part of the joy of the Austin ArtWorks Festival. At its core, this idea is equal parts commonplace and profound, insightful and obvious. Yet, it’s an idea most of us rarely stop to consider in the hustle and bustle of our everyday lives.

ArtWorks, like most good art and literature, challenges us to slow down and consider ideas; it challenges to give into our creative sides.

I’ll give an example. I’d spent a good deal of the Friday afternoon before ArtWorks writing a complicated courts story, which was essentially three stories in one. The task left little room for interpretation or creativity. The key object is clarity, not to mention a thorough need to ensure accuracy.

Much of the task felt like I was pulling teeth — or, to use a metaphor more fit for this column: like I was pulling the tusks from the elephant in Felten’s painting, only the machine gun was pointed right at me.

(I know, I’m sure my Pulitzer for witty art metaphors is in the mail.)

But that’s what the ArtWorks Festival — and the commission and art in general — should do: Pull us away from the everyday and challenge us to polish our creative lenses, and that shouldn’t be limited to the festival.