AIP: Terry Werner

The next Artist Interview Project installment features Terry Werner, the artist behind Werner Art & Designs. The first part of this post includes a student’s reflective summary. It is followed by the full interview text.

Learn more about the Artist Interview Project course assignment in Dr. Jenkins’ introduction to the series. You can follow the Philosophy School of Phish on Facebook, Twitter (@phishedu), and the course’s public website.

Find more information about Terry Werner’s art on his website.

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Phish Magnaball/Grateful Dead Fare Thee Well Matching Set. Image via artist’s website.

I interviewed a talented artist named Terry Werner for an assignment in my philosophy class. Terry is the owner of Werner Arts & Designs in Ukiah, California. Through his store, Terry sells his artwork, which is unique, beautiful, and eye-catching. I asked him many hard questions, which he answered thoughtfully.

In our interview, we discussed the nature of beauty and imagination. Terry’s description of what makes art beautiful is similar to philosopher Leo Tolstoy’s definition of art. Terry explains:

“As artists we all strive for our perfect expression of our vision. The beauty in the art is that struggle the artist goes through expressing his or herself. It is never perfect but almost always beauty appears somehow.”

Beauty is subjective; to one person Kandinsky’s art might be just a bunch of scribbles but to another, it may be a marvelous piece of art. Art is not perfect, but it nevertheless can be beautiful.

In his article, “What is Art?” Tolstoy argues that the purpose of art is to make us feel emotion. In fact, the transmission of emotion, for Tolstoy, defines what makes art beautiful. Terry’s answers were similar to Tolstoy’s perspective. In our interview, Terry said:

“I feel that art’s first purpose is to captivate the viewer’s attention even if it’s for just a moment… At this moment the viewer is feeling some emotion so in that respect an emotion is felt but I don’t think artists create art to make viewers feel an emotion.”

Terry’s opinion is like Tolstoy’s because he thinks art does give people emotion. However, his view departs from Tolstoy’s, because he doesn’t think emotion is art’s purpose. I appreciate Terry’s perspective, because he changed my mind! I now believe that I don’t have to feel something when I experience art; its imperfections make it beautiful.

Terry makes art for Phish fans, which certainly makes him an avid Phish fan. I noticed that his art recreates the sense of freedom and curiosity that Phish fans look for when they got to a Phish concert. In the essay, “Why We Come Back,” Mr. Miner’s blog explains:

“In their live concerts, Phish offers the promise that at any moment, anything can happen. And when they are at their best, “anything” often does. We come back to Phish because of this Freedom. Enmeshed in their live experience, this feeling returns us to a child-like state where our world is fresh and new and we are freed from the worries, obligations, responsibilities and ethical / moral compromises of our day to day selves. And like Peter Pan refusing to grow up, we crave to experience this “not knowing,” so that we may be able see the world anew, with fresh eyes and ears.”

I noticed a kind of child-like curiosity in Terry’s drawings. Or rather, his artwork produced this feeing within me! Terry has many prints and I found myself wanting to know what each one means. Their variation and color makes me feel like a child discovering a whole new world.

Terry and I discussed where he gets his inspiration. I learned that a lot of his inspiration comes from Phish community. Terry described how he was inspired to create Phish-themed art:

“The first time I was inspired to do Phish Phan-Art I would have to say it was attending Superball 9 at Watkins Glen in 2011. I was camped near an artist that goes by the handle ‘Crazy Red Beard.’ He was selling a few of his watercolor prints and matching pins very low key around his camp. I ended up getting a print/pin set from him on the final day of fest. The very next year at Alpine Valley I put out my first event phanart. One strange thing with Phish festivals is that they are any vending of any kind. The colorful and friendly community.”

Terry’s account describes how the Phish community supported the development of his artwork. In fact, Terry noted how supportive the fan base is for artists like himself. He explains, “A big thing I LOVE about the Phanart community is the respect and positive support from all the artists to each other.”

Philosopher John Drabinski describes the importance of what he calls the “occasional community,” because such spaces help us escape the monotony of modern life. Describing the lot at a Grateful Dead concert, Drabinksi writes:

“We didn’t need to know anything about one another, except we occupied this space, at this time, and that this was sufficient community of the commuter or the occasional community of the Deadhead lot is akin to exiting much of what defines modern life.”

Phish’s lot is also a place of hope to escape modern life through art, music, and community.

I learned a lot from my interview with Terry and I would like to thank him for taking time to discuss his artwork with me.

Interview Transcript

Where do you get your inspiration? Your imagination?

My Inspiration comes from a lot of places… The music first and foremost, other art works, photography, etc…  But if I were to look back and find the first time I was inspired to do Phish Phan-Art I would have to say it was attending Superball 9 at Watkins Glen in 2011. I was camped near an artist that goes by the handle “Crazy Red Beard”. He was selling a few of his watercolor prints and matching pins very low key around his camp. I ended up getting a print/pin set from him on the final day of fest. The very next year at Alpine Valley I put out my first event phanart. One strange thing with Phish festivals is that they are any vending of any kind. The colorful and friendly community that almost always finds a place in the parking lots at shows is banned from THE show. There are tons of people that have tried to contact them about getting a permit or finding a way to do things legitimately but Phish/Magnaball doesn’t even respond to communication attempts.  I will be there this year for Magnaball 10 and have a wonderful unofficial print for it but will be staying very low key. I am going to be trying a promotional angle by handing out my card to promote my website/print. As to my imagination… I guess I always try to create my prints with animals of some kind and some way of reflecting the venue/city by including landmarks, flags, astrology, and local foliage and wildlife. I like it to be recognizable to children and adults alike.

What makes art beautiful?

The human imperfection in expression… That’s just my own view. Art is expression and as humans we are imperfect. These imperfections are in every artwork produced ever. Even the Mona Lisa can be argued is imperfect in someway. As artists we all strive for our perfect expression of our vision. The beauty in the art is that struggle the artist goes through expressing his or herself. It is never perfect but almost always beauty appears somehow.

Do you express your feelings by art?

Yes to a point. I think the expression of feeling or emotion appears more in fine art but there are small ways an artist can put personal feelings into there poster art work. In 2013 my dog Abbie passed unexpectedly just before Phish/Dicks and Further/Red Rocks and I was able to immortalize her in both of those print sets. I don’t think I’ve ever told anyone about that but it meant a lot to me. The art form of performing music expresses feeling and emotion to a much higher degree than visual art… but again that’s just my personal opinion.

What makes your artwork response to Phish?

To describe my response to Phish in my prints I would have to say its kind of literal for the most part. Examples would be including characters from phish songs in my art or references to song lyrics. If a Phan can pick up on it the connection occurs and this person usually ends up supporting me by purchasing my artwork or turning on his or her friends to me. One thing I will say here is that the more artists try to hide or disguise the Phish references in their artwork the more popular said artwork becomes.

Which artist do you appreciate or feel inspired by?

Oh man the list is huge… Crazy Red Beard, Tripp, Isadora Bullock, Wilson, Ryan Kerrigan, Otto, Pollock, Taylor,… I could go on and on. A big thing I LOVE about the Phanart community is the respect and positive support from all the artists to each other. The scene has truly become flooded with artists but with all that competition the pressure is on to create the best artwork possible. You would think its competitive but it doesn’t feel that way. I am always excited to see what others are coming up with.

Do you believe that art’s purpose is to make you feel emotion?  

I feel that art’s first purpose is to captivate the viewers attention even if it’s for just a moment… At this moment the viewer is feeling some emotion so in that respect an emotion is felt but I don’t think artists create art to make viewers feel an emotion. One could go so deep when talking about arts purpose and emotional response but that’s all very relative to each persons specific experiences… I think that the artist and the viewer could agree that the purpose of art is to inspire imagination. Imagination to ponder the artists vision or there own personal reflection of imagination.

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Fishes of Vermont print. Image via artist’s website.

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