Several articles have recently appeared online and in local publications about my artwork. This is one of the best.
Environmental art has a story to tell
Shelly Leitheiser’s latest exhibit, “Kinetic Connections,” is currently showing at the WARM Gallery in the Minnesota Women’s Center. Aside from being powerful commentaries about the environment, Leitheiser’s paintings in this exhibit raise questions about art and politics.
For starters, Leitheiser’s paintings tell a story. That fact in itself draws the artist into a minefield. While narrative painting was once a popular and accepted style, 20th-century modernists refused to give it legitimacy and, despite the postmodern turn in the 1970s, the debate still rages.”
I have to say I was flattered to read this long article about my work. It seems like I think about some of my art less than some people who see it, which is an added bonus for me. The truth is, artists are often surprised at what people see in their art work, which is why we are loath to talk about it too much or tell people what it “means”. It means whatever the viewer wants it to mean, because no one will ever see in it the exact same meaning or purpose I do, even if I do explain it to them. It’s as amorphous as trying to explain a thought itself.
That said, I was a little surprised to read that art that tells a story is like entering a minefied. I don’t think I’ve ever encountered anyone who thought my paintings were less “art” because they have meanings or purpose behind them. Art throughout the ages, from its very invention, has told stories. Cave paintings told stories. Viking sart told stories. Renaissance art told stories. It’s only in the last few hundred years that “art for arts sake” was even considered worthy of doing.
Ever since I was a little kid I saw forms and recognizable shapes even in the most abstract art, and art has always had to have a meaning of some kind for me or it bores me quite easily. I am not a person who likes to puzzle over something for a long period of time, unless it’s a significant idea in a conversation or a book. I enjoy abstract art a lot and do quite a bit of it myself, for instance, but I don’t pretend that it has a lot of significance or any lasting purpose or meaning. At least, mine doesn’t. It’s more like wallpaper or design. And ironically, most of my real artwork tends to avoid what is decorative or attractive.
Most of the time I hope my art is meaningful to someone. I can’t see any purpose to shying away from meaning in art. Some of the best art ever made has had meaning and purpose (Guernica, for example).