The Ogden City Arts Advisory Committee is a group of local artists and residents that focuses on all things art happening in the city. The group’s members work as liaisons between artists and Ogden City to ensure art remains a vital part of the city. Wes Whitby is a member of the committee.
Art tells a story.
Sometimes it is the story.
And I have long observed (I don’t know who first observed it: Aristotle? Let’s say Aristotle) that the best art, the best story, has its genesis either in a place of tragedy or a place of beauty. Tragedy has a way of finding each of us eventually. But since I wasn’t abandoned early by my parents to be reared by an indifferent dowager aunt, haven’t recently been unlucky in love (happy 20 years, babe) and all my pets are alive and well (three cats and some adopted sheep in the field next door), I currently find my art in the other place — the place of beauty.
Have you noticed? That place is this place — Ogden, Utah.
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I’ll admit, sometimes I forget to notice. I recently took a picture of my kids sitting in front of a large window in my house and posted it in the usual places only to have a friend of mine from Vilnius nearly scream-post back at me, “You live there!?! I could paint that for days and days!” It took me a minute (and I think this is the problem) to realize that he was talking about the view of the mountainside he could see through the window behind my house and not the worn leather sofa my kids were sitting on.
It is so easy to forget we live in an astonishing and distinctive setting. Why don’t I “paint it for days and days?” Why am I not constantly inspired to sonnet?
I’m realistic about this. I have a job and kids and you know, stuff that gets in the way. Who doesn’t? There isn’t much time left after everything else to devote every waking moment to appreciating anything. But to live in a place without regularly cultivating a sense of “place” is itself tragedy. I think that this cultivation is hastened and enriched by the creation of art; art of the personal, I-made-it-myself kind.
Now, not everyone is wired for interpretive dance on the street (I’m working up to that), but the creation of art and the cultivation of a sense of place are inextricably connected. Whether you dance, write, paint, play, tell, sculpt, sketch or quilt, the story created by personal experience in “place” is an important part of building a connection to that place. At least consider recording — however artistically you do it — the experience of being in this place. However you tell the story, it’s the story of “place” and your place in it that matters.
A couple of years back, Ogden had a public art haiku contest. The goal of the contest was to invite the denizens of O-town to produce short poetry that represented Ogden and could be permanently posted along a certain downtown street (take a walk from Wall to Grant on the north side of 23rd Street to see what I mean).
Seeking to represent Ogden, I did what I think most of the participants in the contest did — I came to Ogden. I mean I actually came to experience again that place I live in and somehow fail to really notice every day. I actually observed the city, the places and people. I looked hard at this place in ways that I hadn’t looked for a long time in an attempt to rediscover or create a poetic identity for Ogden.
It was delightful. I had (and took) an opportunity to immerse myself in moments of personal place and poetry here in this town. I honestly don’t remember much the poetry I created or whether it was any good. I remember the process, however, and the sense of “place” quickened in me by that effort. I hope we do it again.
If it seems cliché, this idea of finding inspiration in nature — in place — so what? It is. Note to self: “Stop being too cool for cliché!” And the best part about living in Ogden is that it is not necessary to pack up and head to the hills to be right in the middle of an art-inspiring backdrop. Don’t forget the obvious trips down the river parkway or a visit to Beus Pond. But what if you find your sense of place while standing next to the tallest building in the city? Which is that? The Ben Lomond Hotel? The Ogden Municipal Building? Even standing there you are still surrounded by the sublimity of magnificent peaks to the east and by the presence of the gigantic saline sea to the west. In such a setting, you can find poetry just counting the number of times the walk sign flashes as you cross the street (the red hand flashes nine times at the intersection of 27th and Washington).
How about this: Sometime soon, find yourself sitting on a boulder midway up Burch Creek trail, overlooking the valley. Write a poem there. Haiku? Sonnet? Long-form free-verse? Limerick? Who cares? Sketch a tree. Turn over a rock and count the bugs. Go to the woods. Take a notebook. Start/make/create something. And then come back and tell us what you find.
Seriously. We live in one of the most beautiful places in the world. Art some story to go with it.