‘Art and Soul’ one and the same for VACI’s Kimes


Don Kimes

Emma Morehart | Staff Writer

What do Pompeii, jazz, the Information Age and art have in common?

Interruption. And this interruption inspires the kind of creativity seen in some of the most ambitious and successful pieces of art, said Don Kimes, the artistic director of Visual Arts at Chautauqua Institution.

Kimes will explain how interruption can be a catalyst for creativity in all forms of art in his lecture, “Interruption, Transformation and the Creative Act,” at 2 p.m. today in the Hall of Philosophy.

“These interruptions can be major and catastrophic, and the way one responds to them determines whether or not one digs a hole and climbs into it or manages to come through with it and maybe even something better happens as a result of that interruption,” Kimes said.

The theme of this week’s Interfaith Lecture Series is “Art and Soul” and analyzes how spirituality and faith influence art. Often, art and soul are inseparable, Kimes said.

“When I touch the walls of Pompeii, or I touch a stone carving that was there when the Venetians lived, it does something in terms of understanding your place in the universe,” Kimes said. “Art is really about a kind of transcendence. What else is it if it’s not about transcending?”

Kimes lives in Washington, D.C., but has spent a large portion of his life studying in Italy and still travels to the Italian city of Umbria. In 2010, he helped an Italian painter named Rossella Vasta write “Interruptio,” a collection of essays that discuss the role of interruption in the creative process.

“It’s only in really being lost do you have a chance to make a discovery,” Kimes said. “Otherwise, you kind of depend on what you already know.

He added that all of his most creative work began as an interruption.

“So it’s a way of looking at things that happen in our lives that we maybe don’t like at the time, but if we can manage to hold ourselves together … it’s possible that we’ll ascend in an even larger way,” he said.

Kimes has been the artistic director of VACI for 26 years and said collaboration with the other departments at Chautauqua has been essential to the smooth success of the Institution. But Kimes said he has never collaborated with the Department of Religion this directly.

The lecture allows Kimes to access an audience that he normally would not have the opportunity to engage with, he said. Even though interruption can be crucial to creative art, it is a topic well suited to a general audience as well.

“You’re looking for the thing that isn’t what you expect because in connecting to that thing … there’s a chance that you’ll find something you don’t already know,” Kimes said. “And to me, that’s the definition of art. That’s what education is, taking a chance on something you don’t already know.”

“Ascendence” and “transcendence,” the words Kimes uses to describe the core components of art, are familiar religious words as well. But art is more about spirituality than religion, he said.

“When I walk into a museum, and I look at the work of (someone else), the work that really calls me is the work that I can’t explain, that somehow talks about the healing spirit on some level, that can’t really be articulated,” Kimes said. “To me, that’s a kind of spirituality.”

He added that this is similar to the common religious concept of “blind faith.”

Although Kimes went to church as a kid, he said his faith does not shape his work as much as his spirituality does. But he said he does believe in God and often jokes that he works with God every day.

“Things happen, and then I respond to them and then the image comes out. I say that it’s just me and God. He does his thing and I do mine,” Kimes said with a laugh. “It’s like the saying, ‘Man plans and God laughs.’”