PAINTING with LIGHT… PLAYING with SOUND

(From a speech given at the Institute for American Indian Arts, Santa Fe)

The real Art occurs in the imagination : then the Work begins. The tools are whatever we can get, beads or pixels, hunting bows or a computer.

I began music in my head. Then about age 3, I discovered the piano, and the world changed up for me, because I could express outside what I heard in my head. As a teenager, I wanted an instrument I could tune and I craved mobility, and I lived with a guitar and a mouthbow. In the sixtes I was introduced to early electronic synthesizers, and in the seventies to the computer. Throughout my crayon days, my watercolors and oils days, and my eventual falling in love with digital painting on the Macintosh, one fact has made itself clear: an artist will make music on pots and pans, or an orchestra, and we’ll make images in the sand with a finger, or whatever else is available, including the computer.

In case the first thing that comes to your mind when you hear about computers is a pie chart, let me tell you that computer artists are also doing what can only be called fine art. We make art on computers for the same reasons that Da Vinci, Rembrandt and Mozart made art with their available tools: because we love to. Asleep and awake, I dream about manipulating colors and shapes and sounds and rhythm. I earn my living giving concerts and speeches; when I’m done, my eyes are just hungry for pieces of pure sound and pixels of color, so I take my imagination into my studio, and play with sound, and I paint with light.

I had been using Mac Paint from the early 80s, and then when I got my Mac II, I fell in love with PixelPaint for visual art and Opcode’s Vision for music. I “play” music and I “play” visuals. But here’s the great thing about computer art: you can have some wonderful times while you’re on the way to becoming a master, even if you start today. If you’re really an artist, you don’t have to know a lot to accomplish a lot. You can make eloquent artwork with talent, desire, and a pencil and paper, or as a beginner with a computer graphics program.

It would be my dream to have color and sound setups like I have at home, in every school, on every reservation. To me, a Macintosh is a natural and easy to learn tool, and it belongs in the hands of our beadworkers and powwow singers, our linguists, our historians. (See Cradleboard Teaching Project) Native artists are already far beyond the realm of lavendar coyotes and the demands of the tourist trade.

As for myself, I have my usual ulterior motive for spending peices of my time teaching computer art to the students, staff and teachers at the prestigious but financially lean Institute for American Indian Arts. In my opinion, Indian people suffer from a lack of self-identity and self-esteem as a direct result of the communication gap which has persisted these past 500 years. If Indian artists, mothers, thinkers had been able to communicate effectively with European artists, mothers, thinkers long ago, history may have been different. With computer technology becoming so affordable and so awesome in the area of graphics and communications, there is a potential for the Native alternative point-of-view, (which is quite splendid, btw), finally to be shared in major and ongoing ways that would both raise the level of Indian self-esteem-self-identity at the same time as providing the rest of the world with a much needed medicine.

Some artists are still uncomfortable about computers. Well, there IS a learning curve, sort of like learning to drive; but once you learn, you can go anywhere, and beyond other peoples’ train tracks.

Buffy Sainte-Marie


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