Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Why do People Make Art?

Wandering around the Museum of the Templo Mayor in the ancient sacred precincts of Mexico City I came upon a stone sculpture that got me wondering about a million things. It is one of the strangest prices I have ever seen and I doubt I'll ever get to the bottom of its mystery.

The sculpture was found in the ruins of the Templo Mayor, the great sacrificial temple of the ancient Aztecs in Tenochtitlan, the capital of the Aztecs. It depicts a paper bow that was wrapped around priests as part of their costume. The bow, or perhaps the paper, was meant to invoke rain, part of the elaborated and complex ceremonial activities in the Templo Mayor.

Whatever its purpose or efficacy, the bow was considered an important component of ritual. What occurred to me as remarkable is that this ephemeral object would have been reproduced in a massive stone sculpture.

Why do People Make Art?

Gorgeous, sensuous, and powerful, the stone sits today in the Museo del Templo Mayor. But why depict a piece of paper in stone? Can ws assume that the stone was meant to carry the same ritual power as the paper? Was the stone object made as a reminiscence, a symbol, an evocation of ancient village rituals that were later brought to the Capital? Might the stone have acted in some other ritual capacity? Was it connected to ritual at all? How do we make this assumption? 

 During a later trip to Mexico City, I came upon another exhibit at the museum. This time, a ritual paper figure was on display. It had been unearthed quite recently, and it seemed to provide an answer to my initial questions about the stone "bow." This object closely resembled contemporary paper objects that are used in remote Mexican villages to this day. They are part of a complicated ritual that involves sacrifice (of turkeys), spreading of the animals' blood, a long overnight pilgrimage to a holy site, and days and nights of ritual back in the village. 

This massive never ending game of paper scissors stone got me to wondering, why do people make art in the first place? If the paper bow was a piece of ephermeral ritual performance imbued with movement and moment, what inspired an artist to record it in massive, unchanging, and permanent stone?

Wherever we travel around this amazing place, Mexico City, the question never stops bothering me. What is art and why do we make it? What is the moment of spark or inspiration or motivation that awakens in our consciousness and in our hands? What are the things we decide to represent and why?