by Susan Knowles
Celia Walker and I were thrilled to be invited to write the catalogue for The Art of Community: Janet and Jim Ayers’ Collection of Tennessee Art. It was like being given a wonderful gift: the perfect assignment for two Tennessee-based art historians and curators who have followed the careers of many of the artists over the years. Not only did we get to spend in-depth time with artists we have long admired, but Celia and I also met new artists who have arrived recently, or have come back home after years away, or who are just beginning their career paths. During the spring and summer of 2012, we traveled to large and small cities and hidden corners of the countryside to talk with as many of the artists as possible. On some of the hottest days of the year, the artists waited patiently while we held marathon interview days in Nashville, Memphis, and Knoxville. The profiles we wrote, presented in lively and elegant two-page spreads designed by Becky Brawner, are based on those thirty-minute conversations.
The Art of Community collection includes creative artists working in a variety of different media and styles, but all have one thing in common: lasting ties to Tennessee. We asked each artist the same questions: what prompts you to make your art, what do you hope people will gain from seeing it, and how do you imagine your creative future unfolding? Every turn of the page in The Art of Community reveals a different artist’s words and artwork. Readers of the catalogue will find a fascinating and surprising range of answers to these simple but elemental questions. In our introductory essay we tried to point out some of the threads linking different artists in the collection—motivations such as the preservation of a certain place and time, a reverence for nature, the curiosity to try new materials and methods, a desire to somehow contribute to society, and a sincere appreciation for things simple and profound. How well their responses matched their expressive works! Celia and I are delighted to have been part of this publication, a generous gesture by Janet and Jim Ayers that will bring some of Tennessee’s finest artists well-deserved public recognition.
The Art of Community is available locally at Parnassus Books and The Arts Company.