The only point of asking an artist for a definition of “Art” is to learn about that artist. I am not a theoretician so my definition comes from a deep inside place that is visual and is as basic as a noun and a verb. As object and action it defines who I am as I interact with and interpret the physical world outside, the emotional world inside, and the science that explains it.
“Art,” as a verb, is a basic need of mine like eating, loving, talking—but mostly it is about making. I am compelled to make things: to draw, paint, and take photographs. I dream in images. I react to other images. I see patterns and colors before I read words. Making art drives my being—I cannot go too long without doing it—art sustains me.
“Art” is also a noun—an object like a commodity, a fashion statement, an item of status. It can also be an object on display that inspires contemplation, study, and discovery as it presents complexities, challenge and joy. That sense of joy visited me at a very early age. As a first generation American, an only child who grew up in a home with no more than three books in our apartment, visiting the Brooklyn Museum’s children’s art classes revealed a world of visual wonder that continues to inspire.
That nascent introduction to the magic of a created object is the core of my personal definition of art, which drives my desire to make paintings and photographs. I think it was that urban childhood which sparked my fascination with open spaces—those of monumental, geological landscapes. I need to share that obsession with the natural world, how it looks and how it works. Now I must share my growing concern that our land is being irrevocably altered by climate change.
My reason for making art has evolved—the noun and verb conflate: it is now an object of beauty and a vehicle for action, to inspire protest. I struggle to merge my personal need to paint with my political desire to change the world—my love of the art that opened up a world deep inside me with the world around me that is being threatened.
Diane Burko has had over 30 solo exhibitions of paintings and photographs focusing on monumental and geological phenomena and most recently concentrating on the perils global warming poses on the environment with her ongoing project: Politics of Snow. Her awards include Independence Foundation Fellowship the Arts (2013), NEA Visual Arts Fellowships (1985, 1991); Individual Artists Grants from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts (1981, 1989); a Lila Acheson Wallace Foundation Residence Fellowship (1989); a Rockefeller Foundation Residence Fellowship (1993).