By Barbara Falconer Newhall
I can’t make up my mind about Dale Chihuly. He’s a glassblower, which makes him a craftsman. But is he also an artist? He’s prolific and his work is popular; does that mean he’s pandering to a mass audience? Or does his mind-bogglingly ambitious glass stuff come from the heart? Is his work fine art—or shameless kitsch? Is it guilty of sentimentality?
I’m going to go with all of the above.
On a beautiful summer’s day a few weeks ago, Jon and I strolled through the Chihuly Garden and Glass museum at the Seattle Center, just the two of us.
Our Seattle hosts for the week had told us that we might—or might not—want to take in the
Chihuly exhibition. We could do as we pleased, they said, but they weren’t coming with us. They’d seen it once, and once was enough.
We went. We saw. We took pictures. And as we strolled amongst Chihuly’s often overwrought efforts, I wondered whether a little self-editing might have served him well.
Writers, artists, musicians—we all face the same challenge every day, with every brush stroke and with every line of prose: How do you know whether that nifty line you just wrote is searingly
poignant—or just plain corny? It requires a healthy resevoir of self-confidence—ego?—to go ahead and write/paint/compose what’s really on your mind.
People who write about religion are particularly vulnerable the poignant-corny divide. How do you write about people’s deepest yearnings without waxing mushy and sentimental?
That very challenge made the writing of Wrestling with God take a lot longer than it would have if I’d been writing about drought-tolerant ground covers for the back yard, say, or what to wear to
meet your son’s in-laws-to-be. (I settled on dead pine needles for the yard, and polka dots for the in-laws.) As I wrote, I had to keep asking myself, will my readers find that paragraph off-putting? Or evocative?
And so, as a writer of stuff that teeters on the edge of cheesy, I’m going to cut artist Chihuly some slack here. Yeah, some of the concoctions he’s put in this garden in downtown Seattle tend
toward the overblown, literally and figuratively. Yeah, some of it is kitschy. But you’ve got to admire a guy who’s got the guts to put his heart out there for everybody in this, his home state, to see.
And so, my advice to anyone about to visit Seattle: see this outrageous indoor-outdoor collection of Chihuly’s work – if only to find out what a person can do with a blowpipe, some molten glass, and a shot of ego.
If you enjoyed this post, you might also like “The Ghost of 300 Million Drought-Killed Trees Hovers Over a Lake in Texas” and “Sue Johnson’s Lamps and Shades — Works of Art in Berkeley.”