What is an Art Farm?Posted: June 20, 2011
These days with lots of attention to localvore culture, “know your food, know your farmer,” food politics, etc, the link between art and agriculture seems less often explored, rarely celebrated. We began musing on this theme in ’01 while living on Chicago’s North Side (population density of >4,500 people per square mile) and later in ’06 when we settled in Maine (population density of 41 people per square mile). Big change in surroundings. No change in interest.
Along the way we heard about Farmer John at Angelic Organics, about the folks at the Wormfarm Institute (two sculptors who left Chicago to farm in southern Wisconsin), and the Bread & Puppet Theatre that ends each performance by sharing with the audience bread made by the cast and crew. Nance Klehm, a farmer, forager, social ecologist and good friend, in ‘08 taught a class at the UCLA School of Art on the topics of: “place and participation (or which of these bugs are edible?)/cultivating knowledge, participation, food in the age of monoculture/practical and critical processes for the hungry, lost and restless.” A Google search now brings up numerous sites under the term “art farm.”
Something is up. And still it is hard to wrap our mind around what is an art farm. More readily, we can say what it is not: neither a “get big or get out” USDA sanctioned operation, nor the world of Art as an insurable, bankable asset. But that doesn’t tell us much. Stating the affirmative, we could say this is equal parts “Cheap Art Manifesto” (see blog of 19 May) and a hands-in-the-dirt connection to the earth and ourselves.
Art-making is a behavior. Hard-wired into our DNA, it is a biological inclination. In a nutshell, this is the argument put forth by Ellen Dissanayake in her book What Is Art For?: “My own notion of art as a behavior…rests on the recognition of a fundamental behavioral tendency that I claim lies behind the arts in all their diverse and dissimilar manifestations from their remotest beginnings to the present day. It can result in artifacts and activities in people without expressed ‘aesthetic’ motivations as well as the most highly self-conscious creations of contemporary art. I call this tendency making special and claim that it is as distinguishing and universal in humankind as speech or the skillful manufacture and use of tools.”
What if art-making is not an attribute of society, but antecedent to society. Could it follow, then, that agriculture emerged as a “making special” adaptation? Are we putting the horse before the cart? These are questions we strive to grasp.
An art farm is about “place and participation” where obstacles become opportunities. We live in a rented house in South Portland, Maine. When our landlord said we could not have a garden, we made arrangements to plant a shared garden at the home where our daughter goes for day-care. And from that place we are now harvesting greens that feed our family. A few miles away, down by the Marsh, with Farmer Martha we are raising hens and, soon, broilers, and from the orchard, come autumn, again we will pick apples, press cider, make cobblers and applesauce. With a lot of sharing and creativity we are making do with what we have.
And as we go forward, we will tell the tales, share the stories and paint the pictures here at our blog, while the answers work themselves out. They always do.