So I am beginning to think about the area that fascinates me, that area where art and archaeology overlap, the interface of innumerable possibilities. And I have started by focusing on the role of the artist and the archaeologist-as-scientist, and enticing some of my readers to contribute their ideas as to how they perceive that the practitioners of art and science are not so different after all.
One reader has actually experienced being an artist and an archaeologist at the same time. He says:
“I can claim to be an artist who has literally explored the interface between artist and archaeologist, as I worked on the Aberystwyth Castle dig in the 80’s, initially as a technician, then as deputy supervisor. As well as ‘excavation’, I did a lot of site plans and drawings of sections, objects etc. As a (mostly) representational painter, I found the experience of site discovery, analysis and interpretation very conducive and curiously similar to the process of discovering, interpreting and representing the world through paint.”
Artists and archaeologists also have grids in common. I wonder if there’s more than a superficial similarity there? Any artists who would like to tell me why they are using grids in their work? Or maps? I myself use maps, though in a totally different way from the science-based archaeologist. I frequently have cartographic references in my work, especially in my drawings, but rather than refer to the details of a real place, I want my map element to evoke a sense of that place. I can see that this will be an ongoing theme, so if anyone wants to write to me along these lines, either about their use of grids or maps, you are very welcome to do so.
Iranian artist Shirazeh Houshiary
However, I want to move on to another area, and that is the whole idea of exploring human identity, in other words, what is it that makes humans human, something that art and archaeology most definitely have in common.
Drawing by Shirazeh Houshiary
I discovered how important this is to me when I had to do an exercise a couple of months ago describing what kind of artist I want to be. I found that I have four targets that I am aiming at:
a) Continually learning, experimenting, discovering, and improving the aesthetic and conceptual quality of my work
b) Being open to new ideas, new research, and new techniques, preferably ones that show the hand of the artist
c) Gaining respect of fellow practitioners through consistent work and integrity, and drawing other creatives to join in the discussion through collaboration and sharing of expertise
d) Progressing in the invention and assimilation of pictorial language that allows issues to do with human identity, particularly the spiritual, to be explored and discussed
Drawing by Shirazeh Houshiary
The prospect of exploring what it means to have a spiritual dimension to life is exciting precisely because it reveals that there is so much undiscovered land in that direction. Is this something that we as individuals choose to have as part of our lives? Or is a capacity for spiritual things something that marks out everyone, however actively engaged or not we feel we are in such matters? And what does it actually mean? Here we are not to confine ‘spiritual’ to referring only to religion, although of course it includes religion. Spirituality could be a term that brings into its orbit any pattern of activity or experience that does not depend on the material and visible world, but exists independently of it. So the practice of thinking itself could be construed as a ‘spiritual’ activity. How ‘spiritual’ a person am I? Do we actually connect with each other in ways that are ‘spiritual’?
Image by Shirazeh Houshiary
I found the term ‘spiritual’ defined by an archaeologist as “belief in a power and a purpose greater than themselves.” At the time he was talking about the surprising discoveries related to Neanderthals, about their attitude to burial and the afterlife. That is an undeniably large area to think about. Then there is the definition the same man went on to give, that “the symbolic ability to remake the world in our minds” (with reference to cave paintings and other older forms of art) is “one of the characteristics of being human.” In other words, art has a lot to tell us about our identity as beings with spiritual capacity. Or am I making a giant leap here? Is art nothing to do with the ‘spiritual’? What do you think?
‘A Fine Frenzy’ – Shirazeh Houshiary, 2004
Black and white aquacyl, white pencil and ink on canvas