Friday, March 29, 2013

The Creative Process: To Frame or Not to Frame?

This series is about the cross-over skills and concepts between creating art and doing genealogy. Admittedly, it's all very blue-sky.

OK, please understand that I'm not talking about the physical object you put around a two-dimensional work of art, as in, I really need to get that painting I just bought framed down at the frame shop. This is about a very handy concept (that I forgot and just remembered) called "framing" a work of art: using frame of reference to help define the work and its meaning. As genealogists we use framing when we look at a record and ask ourselves, what exactly am I looking at?

For a while I volunteered as a docent in the San Diego Museum of Art. As a tour guide to all manner of folks it was incumbent upon us to be as informative (and entertaining) as possible, and we all figured out that the task was best done by letting the adult visitors guide the guide. So I'd walk up to a likely couple looking at a work of art - and here I might mention that we had to know something about all 10,000 works of art in the museum - and engage them in conversation, sort of like cocktail chat but with a purpose.

One of my favorite opening question went something like this:, "Oh, I see you're looking at that Van Dyke. Do you like it?" That was a safe bet because people who didn't know anything about a Van Dyke did know if they liked it or not! So I used that liking or disliking and the specifics of it as a springboard to sharing more information about that and other works in the museum.

It all got especially dicey in the Modern and Contemporary galleries. People had strong opinions there! But no matter which side they fell out on, for or against, once they knew what the artist's intention was they had a frame of reference and they could appreciate it more... which didn't necessarily mean they ended up liking it. Wasn't my job to convince them. Hey, we like what we like.

So here's the thing about framing and establishing a frame of reference. You can walk right up to, say, a contemporary work of art and try to "appreciate it" but you probably won't get very far going "unframed." If you want to be involved with a work it's best to bring all manner of information as a "frame" for the work.

I thought about this as I was doing some research recently. I found myself looking at a document from the late 1700s in Virginia. I knew some small amount about the community and that the place was still in Virginia but on the frontier in land that would 100 years later be West Virginia. This document needs to be "framed" properly I thought so off I went to find out as much as possible about the records set and how and why and where it was made and for what propose... much as I would if I was standing in front of a work of art and thinking, what's this about?

This sure isn't rocket science to all of you who have been doing this genealogy thing for a while! You automatically frame the record you're looking at right away rather than getting head over heels at finding great uncle Sammy. For me, I reminded myself again that I can't have too much information about the document I'm looking at and to never make any assumptions about it! The Virginia record was a tax record, and it was only an index. "Not an original work of art at all!"

Nutshell analysis and the obvious take-aways:
* Find out as much about the record that you're looking at so as to better frame it.
* You don't have to like all the works hanging in a museum!

On Fridays if I make a new post in the Creative Process series, I'll also post a painting of mine... just in case you don't care for the post, you might enjoy looking at the painting instead:)

"Borrego Badlands In Bloom"
24 by 40 inches, oil on canvas.
Diane K. Weintraub

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