Inspiration; James Turrell

From famous glass-blowers to someone that can loosely be described as a light artist.  In this post we’ll be looking at a completely different style of creation and what we can learn from the spirit behind it.  Last week we looked at how changing the parameters of a craft can turn it into an art form, this week we’re looking at how science and research can enable our work.

James Turrell; The light psychologist

Turrell came to art in a more round-about fashion that most; he was a student of psychology and mathematics, an approach that’s carried across into his work since.  He never sculpted or created paintings, instead he’s been using light installations to evoke emotions in his viewers on a more basic level.  He believes that by using light in certain ways you can create a space in the mind to start exploring your own sense of spirituality.

The Roden Crater in Northern Arizona houses his largest experiment.  Using the natural light he’s created different rooms in the crater in order to control how the light is perceived, with the ultimate aim being to make people feel different, powerful emotions within each one.  According to James, light, our understanding of it, and its effects on us are key to how we perceive the world.

The Allure

I’ll be the first to say that he wasn’t an obvious choice as a role model for me personally.  Looking at his art online you don’t really get a feel for what he’s trying to achieve; it was only after seeing how people viewing the rooms in person reacted that I became more interested.  Using art as a way to help people connect to themselves and the world around them is, I think, one of the things that defines great art.  If art is a conversation, then art that can connect and prompt thoughts and emotions is doing something right.

“I always felt that art was more interested in posing the question than it was in getting the answer, but I’ve come to more recently think that art is the answer.” James Turrell, interview with Egg.

Useful Lessons from a Lightsmith

There’s two things I’m choosing to take from Turrell’s approach.  The first is that science and more technical skills don’t have to be separate from art and creativity – in fact, they’re more linked than not!  Using what we’ve learned through research and ‘techie’ skills we can have greater freedom to create something wonderful.

The second is that art must have a purpose and a meaning.  Well, I guess it’s possible to have ‘art’ without either of those things being intentional… Looking at the great artists of the past and present though, are there any that didn’t have something to say?  New thoughts, new ideas, new twists, perspectives, conversations – aren’t those more important than any creative or technical ability?

How can we use this?

I propose that as a community we should be moving towards expressing ideas and truths, without restricting ourselves to purely technical or purely artistic methods.

Programmers can create incredibly beautiful things using some lines of code.  Artists can do the same using some lines on paper.  The means don’t matter.

However one question to ask yourself before creating, or maybe even after (if you’re the sort of person that likes to just pick up your things and start), is important.

What’s the point?

6 thoughts on “Inspiration; James Turrell

  1. David Doolin

    Having a point is important.

    Sometimes, the point is not having a point. Some of the code I write is just to write code. I learn something from it, but there’s little point otherwise.

    That said, combining a personal satisfaction with a larger purpose is best, when you can make that happen.

    1. TylinaVespart

      I guess deliberately not having a point works well on shorter projects, and random fun things… When its a longer project or task and I can’t see it then I just get bored!

      Sadly, this has been the cause of many animations turning into ‘Gone with the Wind’ (paraphrasing from my Curriculum head). 😉

  2. Ralph@retirement lifestyle

    This made me think about the ‘art’ from the 60’s where ‘artists’ created rooms to walk through. I tried hard to like the art in the 60’s and never managed. This guy seems interesting. It appears that when you experience his art there is actually a there there.
    Does he only work in natural settings? How can you actually experience his art?

    1. TylinaVespart

      I’ve never actually seen it myself; you have the choice of watching his work in video form or looking at it from photographs (apparently it doesn’t do it justice) or you need to go and visit some of his exhibitions or the crater.

      All of his work is installation art… some of it is literally a dark room with a certain level and colour of light, he plays with that a lot too. It’s meant to bypass a lot of the thought that goes on about art and just hit you emotionally on a basic level.

      Until I actually go and see some though I can’t really say much more! =)


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