Nature of Art: Art and the Wild

By Trent Thursby Alvey

Exploring the concept that freedom is the basis of all creativity, wheter in the consciousness of an artist or in the process of nature.
by Trent Thursby Alvey
Listening to people talk about "what is art" reminds me of other discussions on "what is wilderness." As educators and art historians try to define art, artists go about their business of creating it. Correspondingly, scientists, philosophers and writers try to define the wild. Luckily, neither artists nor nature wait for the definitive answer to do their work. The answer to both questions seems to be the same. Art is best when produced without management, interference, imposed guidelines, or moral or aesthetic dogmatic restraints, just as it is with wildness. Wildness isn't wild if it isn't free to create and evolve at will.


Lamar Valley Buffalo 89"x72"

Why do we persistently try to answer the unanswerable? As humans, we distinguish ourselves from the other species by the ability to speak. This ability has allowed us another trait unavailable to the other animal species: introspection. Contemplation of ourselves has been a major human pastime since we started walking upright. Rock art of hunters and shamans by the Sans Bushmen in Namibia, Africa are thought to be 30,000 years old.

I believe there are no accidents, but that humans were given this linguistic capability to be destined to constant introspection as either a gift or a curse. Jack Turner, a brilliant philosopher, writes about what we are in danger of losing as a culture if we lose wildness in his book "Abstract Wild": "This great feeding body is the world. It evolved together, mutually, all interdependent, all interrelating ceaselessly, the dust of old stars hurtling though time, and we are the form it chose to make it conscious of itself." Thus, we will continue to contemplate questions about art, the wild, freedom, creativity and spirituality because we are conscious of ourselves.


Frontal Lobotomy 36"x28"

When defining wilderness, I cite Thoreau, who noted that "wild is the past participle of 'to will': self-willed land." Gary Snyder, an award-winning writer, poet and activist for more than 40 years, also extracts the root word "wild" from wilderness – "wildness is a self-organizing system, needing no management." This simple definition encompasses much. He writes that wildness constantly comes under the assault of anthropocentric guidance – managing by park administrators, government bureaucracies, self-serving recreation groups and well-meaning scientists. Likewise, it seems the artist needs to remain free and wild, unmanaged and untamed, despite the expectations of critics, art administrators, gallery owners and social norms. Artists moving beyond nameless boundaries will further the creative process and advance the net creative worth of society.

Turner writes, "A place is wild when its order is created according to its own principles of organization – when it is self-willed land." Try substituting the word "art" for "wild." A thing is art when its order is created according to its own principles of organization – when it is self-willed.

As the vehicle to great art, the artist prepares herself with skills, sensitivity, awareness and insight and then relinquishes control, allowing something larger to take over. Thinking too much about the outcome of one's art can defeat the process and get in the way of success. Being in the moment is the path that allows the artist to transcend ordinary consciousness, arriving at a place greater than what could have been conceptualized through cognitive thinking. Art is not destination-driven. Art cannot be obtained by grasping. It has to visit you, like the answer to a Zen koan.


Brain Storm 36"x28"

Unseen forces drive the creation of art and wild. Art and wild are not goal-oriented. When artists announce that they are "pushing the envelope," they paradoxically stifle the wild experience. They derail exactly what they set out to do. Art and wild are about being and doing. They are elliptical and nonlinear. To reach enlightenment you must "strive to quit striving." You must strive to quit creating art in order to create art. This is the paradox.

Turner writes, "Wildness is out there. The most vital beings and systems hang out at the edge of wildness. The next time you howl in delight like a wolf, howl for unstable aperiodic behavior in deterministic non-linear dynamical systems. Lao Tzu, Thoreau and Abbey will be pleased."

I say – Art is out there. The most vital artists hang out at the edge of wildness. The next time you howl in delight like a wolf, howl for unpredictable outcomes of art, howl for unseen order hidden in chaos. Kadanoga, Hatoum and Kapoor will be proud.

We need more anarchist art advocates, less dogma, more freedom for artists, viewers and community. And when you do choose to respond to art… consider howling.

Trent Thursby Alvey is a local artist, graphic designer and advocate for all things wild.

This article was originally published on July 30, 2007.