Marja-Leena Rathje
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"Mediocrity is criminal. Boring is just ridiculous. Goosebumps are what we strive for."

-Leila Getz, Artistic Director of the Vancouver Recital Society, on a mailer that came a couple of days ago.

It has been bouncing around in my head since.

Marja-Leena | 26/05/2006 | 15 comments
themes: Being an Artist, Concepts


It's a balance. The boring time is how we cope with the goosebumpy time: too much of the latter and we simply burn oout emotionally and spiritually. Too much of the former and we die emotionally and spiritually.

I agree, Peter, when talking about how we live our lives. But I'm also thinking about the creation of a work of art. I remember a discussion many years ago in art class, where the teacher said almost the same thing, and it always stayed with me. Why make boring art? When we go to the trouble of creating art, whatever form it takes, it should excite and challenge the viewer/listener/reader.

When I think about what art I like, it is work that makes my heart beat faster, challenges my thinking, and inspires me.

The bottom line is, I think, communication. We do art in whatever form to communicate something to someone else.

The first part of communication is getting attention. It's possible to make pretty bad art that accomplishes that, but the second step, and more important (to me), is to make the trip for the viewer/reader/other human, worth it. Interesting. Lifegiving.

In a sense, I am saying exactly the same thing you are, in different words.

I agree with the quote, but we all have to go through the stages where our work is mediocre. Some of us never get past there, even if we know enough to strive for those goosebumps. But as an aim, I think it should be goosebumps every time.

I read the quote a couple times and couldn't tell if she was referring to the artist or viewer experience...I guess it works either way.

As for goosebumps...I think art should provoke *some* response but the artist's aims vary. A political piece may communicate outrage against an injustice..or sadness.

Some do strive for excitement but not me, I want my paintings to create peace and calm in a chaotic world. So possibly they do not inspire goosebumps or quickened pulses, but that isn't my artistic intention.

Does that make sense?

Peter, yes, communication is what it is about. To get attention, there has to be something to catch the eye, the ear and the heart. Of course people respond differently.

Omega, I think even a student can produce exciting art, and a master can produce less than their best sometimes. Striving for the goosebumps is the important thing, I agree.

Elise, In a way I think one can interpret "goosebumps" to mean a definite reaction to the artwork. No reaction means the work fails and is boring. Artistic intention is an interesting thing, because as I said, each person responds differently. For example, Elise, I think your work has excitement because of your brilliant colours.

Now I'm wondering if I'm making any sense?

Goosebumps - that is the way to jump up, get noticed. But doesn't an artist create something from her/his inner need or strive? Sometimes it hits the high, sometimes not, in the viewer, but the artist's work is ITself. "Boring is just ridiculous". Somebody has a HIGH HORSE.
Everybody, just keep doing your thing!

Hi Sikuri, I did not mean to say that an artist should make work only to get noticed. Of course there must be an inner need and emotion - if it shows, then it will be exciting to the viewers. There is a lot of boring work out there unfortunately. Thanks for the encouragement!

That's a cool way of looking at it Marja-leena...and I agree, work that provokes zero reaction is boring. oh, and thanks for saying my colors are exciting!!!

I note that she writes from a recital society. Don't you think that music is more inclined to give goosebumps of the bumpiest kind? Visual art has to be really punchy, or perfect to have the same effect. Just as an experiment whom do you think would be the painterly equivalents of these real goosebump merchants?

Anna, you scored 100%! Yes, I do think music has the best chance of causing goosebumps, of all the arts. Yet, even here it depends on what stirs the listener. Of these composers, I vote for Wagner. (Do I win?)

When I posed this quote here, I was aware of its application specifically to music performance, but wondered if it could apply to all the arts. I still think it can, but music does have a far bigger audience, doesn't it?

This is about ridiculous to bring up, but we cannot "sell" Sibelius to some people (for me goosebumps and tears), we cannot sell Picasso . . .

Boring art will die, when the artist gets bored.

Sikuri, that's very true - you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink! I do think education, by parents & by schools can develop art appreciation in the young.

As far which medium can evoke goosebumps, I think that it may be a matter of "different strokes for different folks". There are moments in certain films that get me every time.

Atom Egoyan's Calendar (1993), when we see the herd of goats pass by the car for the second time.

Derek Jarman's Blue (1993), as the narrator implores an unseen lover for a kiss.

Wong Kar Wai's Chung hing sam lam (1994) as the cop leans against the bar and the world streams by in a blur.

There's something profound about how these works speak to me, a deep, primal connection that has me in raptures. It inspires and is the reason I am so enamoured by cinema.

Hi Jonathan! Thanks for your imput on goosebumps in another art form, a very popular one. I love your description of rapture and inspiration, a response I love to feel and is a sign for me that an art work is powerful. It works on many levels, doesn't it?, and is unique to each individual as you say.