Mvc-461x.jpg 55.64KB 10 downloadsDuring the Maryland International Exposition last year, I was drawn into a provocative conversation. "Are kites art?", a journalist asked me during dinner. "Or are they a craft or sport??".
"That depends on your definitions", I replied. "If you define "art' very narrowly - as original images on an original frame design - then very little of what we do is art. But if you take a broader definition - that beauty in any application is artwork - then just about everything we do is art...".
"That's a political answer!" scoffed someone from several tables away. "But it's an answer I agree with" chimed in someone else. The conversation went on for an hour.
I don't get hung-up a lot on what is art and what is not. For me, it's more important to be having and sharing fun. But there are many folks out there that do care strongly about the issue. To them, I say that I *do* take the broader view. I see artistry in a mass-launch of giant flowforms, or the destruction-derby-dance of the rokkaku fighters, or in a sport kite with a long flowing tail performing to music. Heck! On the sport kite competition field, the bulk of the score is based on "artistic" even in precision freestyle.
The rub, of course, comes when we start judging hand crafted kites. How do you compare an appliqué of Tweetie Bird to an original freeform painted kite like those of Robert Trepanier?
Our European friends seem to do much better with art and originality. I see weird new shapes in the sky, unusual materials, and painted expression everywhere I go from Damp to Dieppe. Their competitions (when they have them) focus more on overall impact then on craftsmanship. They wonder out loud about the American fascination with stitching and spar-wrapping. Of course, up close, many of their kites are pretty sloppy. But they look great in the sky!
Another interesting project is the Sky Gallery that has evolved into several great art collections. Blank tyvek edos or rokkakus are provided to leading artists and the results are amazing. In Berck two years ago, we lofted thirty *very valuable" kites into the air.
Now to be honest, I've always found something ironic in the argument about original art. We get all excited about the picture and forget about the canvas. We demand original illustrations, and then put them on rokkakus, and edos, and Codys. If we are going to argue from a purist point of view, shouldn't we be as much concerned about the design of the *kite* as we are about the design of the picture we put on it??
But that matter aside, I think the American competition rules do address originality. "Does the surface of the kite contain original artwork, or is it a copy of well-known artwork?" "For kites with traditional artwork, has the artwork been adapted to create new and unusual visual effects?" "Does the structure of the kite contain new or unique features?" I could go on and on. The point is that, although 'original artistry' is weighted, lots of other criteria determine who gets the trophy. One concern, for example, is whether the kite flies...
There is a whole different way of looking at this originality issue. In Japan, where they have a bit more experience then we do here in the States, kitemakers struggle to perfect images that have been drawn over and over for generations. They aren't concerned with being original; they are concerned with getting it right. The philosophy, like the culture, is completely different.
Are their kites artistic? I certainly think so.
So my perception as I traverse the globe, is that the sky is big enough for all of us. Some people want originality, some want finely tuned trick kites, some want giant inflatables. Explore and pursue what you wish. We dont need to beat each other up over the difference.
Bottom line: the great majority of kite fliers simply dont care. We build kites, or collect kites that make us happy. We fly what we enjoy. And that's how it should be. The best art, after all, is in the smile you wear at the end of a good flying day.