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Smoke Signals Monthly eMagazine

James NottageBeing Real: “Watching Things Disappear”

By James H. Nottage

October, 2009 Smoke Signals

Leonard Pitts, a columnist for The Miami Herald, wrote a column recently lamenting that in our increasingly digital world physical things are disappearing. The time is coming when we may not have real newspapers, books, record albums, photographs, and even art. Pitts wisely pointed out that the demise of those objects also implies that the people who make them are facing extinction as well.

As a museum curator, I know that no synthetic duplication can substitute for the real thing. The brush in the hand of the artist created the image on canvas or paper that is real, that reflects the full range of the artist’s creative processes. The life-time cast bronze by Frederic Remington shows every dimension of his creative skill and that of the workers in the foundry that cast and finished the piece. There is even evidence of the artist’s finger prints. In the hammered, filed, stamped, and engraved steel and silver of the cowboy’s 1880s California spurs there is the reality of design, craftsmanship, and ultimately wear contributed by the vaquero who spent long hours in the saddle. Earlier this morning, I held a fine cloth-bound book published in the 1920s by the Arthur H. Clark Company. The deckle edged paper, the gold top edge, the turning of the page, the smell, and the weight and feel of the book can never be replaced by a digital scan.

Yes, just like most of you, I take every advantage I can of computers, cell phones, digital cameras and recorders, e-mail, and a host of other technological conveniences in my daily routines. However, I still have a turn-table to play real vinyl records. I just returned from vacation with three large containers of history books found in northern New York. If I had the means, I would be thrilled to acquire a sculpture by George Carlson or a painting by Curt Walters. Despite, when it comes right down to it, I do not think that I am old-fashioned at all.

As students and devotees of art, history, and culture we all have the advantage of being able to maintain a sense of what is real and what is important. In fact, we watch things disappear all the time. The ravages of the environment and lack of care mean that much of our physical world does not survive simply because of hard use, neglect, and a misguided sense of what is common or abundant. Feel a sense of stability and security in your life as you enjoy the art and artifacts you collect. All that technology is a convenience; it is not reality by itself.

By James Nottage
Chief Curatoral Officer, Eiteljorg Museum, Indianapolis, IN
Founding Curator, Autry National Center, Los Angeles
Husband of Mary Ellen Hennessy Nottage

© Copyright 2009 - James W. Nottage

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