At Anderson Ranch, it’s Enrique Martinez Celaya vs. cynicism
July 4, 2017
If You Go …
What: ‘Conscience in the Age of Cynicism,’ with Enrique Martinez Celaya
Where: Schermer Meeting Hall, Anderson Ranch Arts Center
When: Wednesday, July 5, 12:30 p.m.
How much: Free (registration required)
Enrique Martinez Celaya was born in Cuba and is based in Los Angeles, but the Anderson Ranch Arts Center in Snowmass Village has been an artistic summer home for more than a decade.
He's returned to teach this summer and is also giving the Ranch's Chairman's Choice Presentation on July 5, discussing how artists can resist the disenchantment and cynicism of 21st century life in a talk titled "Conscience in the Age of Cynicism." Along with teaching and showing work regularly at the Baldwin Gallery in Aspen, Celaya has emerged as a the Ranch's unofficial artist-philosopher in residence.
In 2015, he published "On Art and Mindfulness: Notes From the Anderson Ranch."
The book collected thoughts from his Anderson Ranch workshops.
"I like the feeling of the ranch, the people here — it's really a love affair," said Celaya. "There's an earnest quality to the whole thing."
The spirit of the summer on the ranch, when it hosts some 150 workshops and world-renowned figures such as Celaya alongside aspiring artist hobbyists, is a unique environment.
"If you want, you can fail there," he said. "It's important to do that, to commit with the possibility of failure. There's something about the structure of Anderson Ranch that celebrates that and what it means to be an artist."
Celaya, 53, has worked in paint, sculpture and in immersive installations, often grappling with the collisions of man and nature, using philosophy as a touchstone for the work. Los Angeles Times once dubbed Celaya "not just fluent but eloquent in a broad range of media."
You can add writing to that range. "On Art and Mindfulness" reads more like spiritual philosophy than a transcribed series of art lectures. It doesn't resemble the often impenetrable, jargon-choked prose of artist statements.
Celaya, who studied applied physics at Cornell University and began doctoral studies in quantum electronics before pursuing art, looked to the popular physicist and author Richard Feynman as a model for how to talk about art.
"His point was that if you love science, you should be able to explain it to a young kid," he said. "The obfuscation in artist statement, some of that comes from a lack of clarity in the artist's head. I try to recognize that in myself and work on what I know and what I don't know — not that you ever know everything in the process of making art."
As his Anderson Ranch workshops began taking shape as a book, he was wary of sounding as if he did know everything. He wanted it to mirror the back-and-forth of tackling questions surrounding intent and practice with fellow artists.
"I didn't want it to be a book by a wise guru saying things," he said. "I wanted it to be the kinds of things an artist does in a workshop while contending with these questions."
How to work in the moment is the book's unifying theme. It's broken into eight sections on topics such as ethics, risk and failure, "Being an Artist" and "Art as Experience."
Each section is filled with pithy and aphoristic pieces of writing, some as short as one sentence, none longer than a paragraph, broken up by silhouettes of birds. For example: "Language can be used to build other things. Art cannot be used this way. It is an end in itself;" "The viewer completes the endeavor. There is no work of art without the viewer;" "Wide acclaim is not needed for something to be true."
The book reads like a "Tao Te Ching" for artists.
Celaya, for whom English is a second language, often looks to poets such as Robert Frost and Joseph Brodsky and novelists such as Herman Melville and Vladimir Nabokov for inspiration.
"Reading is a primary source for my work," he said. "I read philosophy and literature and that is the universe I see my work in, even though I'm a visual artist. … Often when artists talk about writers, they're talking about them as source of content. I'm reading them for a moral stance in the world. If I read Hemingway, it's not so that I can put some fishing stories in my work."
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