Monday, November 01, 2021

Trailbuilding as commercial art

 Our energetic trail builder has a creative past, with forays into music and design. His other traits, which sustained him through a hitch in the Coast Guard and other adventurous occupations, also include considerable organizational ability if the subject interests him in some way. Thus his career has included a lot that was not overtly artistic. But an artistic sensibility shapes his actions rather than mere soulless athleticism or mercenary pursuit of maximum monetary gain.

While the trails are built to technical standards using proven designs, lines have to be chosen based on observation of the local terrain. Mountain biking is unnatural, and a consumerist activity, but its environmental impact is low because the features have to coexist with the natural forces at work on them. And animals like finding easy passageways through the vegetation, as any trail builder soon sees. Ancestral routes often used game trails, as humans evolved from slightly removed to dangerously removed from the natural order of things. Game uses human corridors now, as well as their own herd paths. Nature just keeps going on as best it can, in spite of or in step with human activities.

Art, in cultures that don't make it central and therefore don't understand it, is presented as touchy-feely, and the province of flakes, charlatans, and generally impractical people. This is a disservice both to art and to the generations of young people who eschew practicality if they feel an attraction to their imagined world of art. Art needs to be presented as a practical subject and used not just to develop powers of observation, but to address in the same way that reading, writing, and arithmetic are addressed, the basic skills of construction that go into creating a work of art. Don't wait for expressed interest. Just put it out there and see who runs with it.

Maybe they're doing that now, but they weren't doing it when I was a kid. Art classes dealt with important things like perspective and composition, but didn't get into the actual handling of the tools. And art was an elective, so you had to decide -- before you were old enough to know how much it might matter to you -- to ask for it.

One book I read around 1979-1980, as I was first trying to launch a career drawing pictures and writing stories, stressed the fact that an artist can benefit significantly from being businesslike, and that artists through history had done so, although exceptions abound among the famous names whose birth and death dates turn out to be depressingly close together. A lot depends on luck. I don't mean the luck of finding work and getting compensated for it. I mean the luck of having innate personality traits that aid a person's curiosity in finding the right questions to ask. Nature and nurture come together to shape a young person.

The trail builder's crew commands a decent price, but it's not going to propel any of them to fortunes. They take pride in their skill and in their product, born largely of experience as riders, even if some of them have aged out of the most risky maneuvers. It's art, but commercial art. It's a kinetic sculpture that the viewer enters and forms a part of. It's more than that, of  course. But it's all inspired by creativity and expression through movement.


RANTWICK said...

I get you on this perspective, although I suppose it is no surprise being about 80% flake.

cafiend said...

Flakiness that produces impressive results gets called genius. But some of it is genuinely dippy.