With the launch of Artscape we are pleased to feature our first guest artist.
Nathan Sawaya, Sculptor
Sawaya’s commitment to his artistry is referenced in a student submission to our Art & Courage essay contest.
He shares his thoughts on the importance of artistic expression and why, “Art is not optional.”
An Inspired Vision, A Bold Move
Sawaya’s courage as an artist is embodied in his work. As a successful corporate attorney, he made the bold decision a decade ago to leave his career and focus on his passion—creating bold and thought provoking sculptures that earned him rapid attention throughout the art world. Sawaya’s medium? The ubiquitous symbol of childhood imagination and endless possibilities: Lego blocks.
Sawaya was raised in the Pacific Northwest and had worked his way through New York University to build a lucrative career as a successful attorney in New York City. His accomplishments were enviable. The decision to reinvent his life as an artist—using a medium that could be perceived as child’s play—could not have been an easy one for Sawaya. To some, it might have seemed ludicrous.
Perseverance Redefines Art
In his essay, Jorge Huerta-Ortega, an 11th grade student at the Humanitas Academy for Art and Technology at East Los Angeles’ Esteban E. Torres High School, wrote: “Some people might think that the art of Nathan Sawaya isn’t actual art because it isn’t paint on a canvas. He creates unique sculptures using Lego blocks. Sawaya had to deal with the pressure that people wouldn’t accept his sculptures as art. He also had to deal with what people would think as they viewed it. Would they think it was ugly and stupid, or would they think that it was beautiful and meaningful?”
Since his first solo exhibition, Sawaya’s artwork has grabbed the attention of art critics and pop culture novices alike. His artwork has been shown in major art institutions throughout the world, and held in the collection of both prominent private and public collections.
Sawaya was the first contemporary artist to ever take LEGO® into the art world as a medium. His work is obsessively and painstakingly crafted and is both beautiful and playful. Sawaya’s ability to transform LEGO bricks into something new, his devotion to scale and color perfection, the way he conceptualizes the action of the subject matter, enables him to elevate an ordinary toy to the status of fine art. His unique sculptures and renowned touring exhibition, THE ART OF THE BRICK®, continues to inspire creativity as well as break attendance records globally.
Nathan Sawaya is the recipient of numerous honors recognizing his artwork and cultural achievements. In 2014, with the belief that “art is not optional,” Sawaya founded The Art Revolution Foundation, for the purpose of making art a priority in our schools and our homes. He has been a speaker at Google Zeitgeist, TEDx, Yahoo! and at the Clinton Library. Today Sawaya lives and works between his two studios located in New York City and Los Angeles when he isn’t touring the world with his art.
While attending the opening of his latest exhibit – The Art of the Brick: DC Comics – in Sydney, Australia, Sawaya accepted our invitation to be Artscape’s first guest artists. In spite of his busy schedule, he was eager to share his insights on courage and the artistic process.
Sawaya’s Thoughts on Art & Courage
Some years ago I was a lawyer. But I wasn’t a particularly happy lawyer and after some time I decided what I really wanted to do with my life was to make art. So I stopped being a lawyer and started being an artist.
It was a big decision. There were costs and benefits, but both were almost entirely mine. When I made the leap, I was prepared for it.
What I wasn’t prepared for was the opposition. Opposition from people I knew well, from people I knew slightly and from people I didn’t know at all. Opposition from people who held no stake in my life whatsoever.
I was told that I was crazy, that I was wrong, and that I was wasting my life. And to be honest, there have been times when I thought they might be right. Because while there’s a piece of paper from a university that tells you you’re a lawyer or a doctor or an engineer, there’s no proof at all that you’re an artist. It’s just a title that you give yourself. The only proof you have of it is the art you make.
And that is why I create art.
The making of art should never be opposed. Art needs to be made. Not just by ‘artists’, but by you, your husband or wife, your kids, your grandparents, the lady in the airplane seat beside you and the guy in the next cubicle at work. Not just because the world could do with more beautiful things, but because there’s a mountain of available evidence that shows that making art will make your life better.
Making art helps school children achieve significantly better scores across subjects like math and science. Making art helps keep less advantaged kids in school, and lowers school drop-out rates. Making art builds self-esteem and self-awareness in adults, qualities that aren’t always in abundant supply in our society. Making art helps combat depression, from which nearly one in ten American adults suffer. Making art helps Americans manage serious illnesses like cancer and Alzheimer’s.
And not only that, if we all were to spend more of our lives creating art, the community in which we all live in would be the better for it.
Art should never be opposed. Art is not optional. I’ll say it again, in capital letters.
ART IS NOT OPTIONAL.
Art is necessary, vital and indispensable. Not only to personal happiness, but also to the welfare of society as a whole.
I am convinced that if you are a creator of art, not just an appreciator of art, your life will be better. Now. Immediately. So don’t wait to create art until your life becomes less busy and you have ‘more time’. Do it now, while you have too much to do, too many things to think about. If you are the kind of person that’s too busy to make art, you’re probably just the kind of person that should be making art.
All of us have creative thoughts, those shirt-tugging urges and ideas that beg you to pick up a pen or brush or camera or even a LEGO brick. Those creative thoughts are gifts, like windows that open for just a short time. If you let them close, they don’t come back later when you have time, or when you’ve retired, or when you’ve made enough money not to have to work anymore. They are here now and they are here for a reason.
Now that doesn’t mean that you have to quit your job and do it every day, that’s just where it’s taken me. I just went through the doors that opened for me. So take a look around, wherever you are. There’s art there. Do you see it? Now go make it.
Visit these sites to learn more about the art of Nathan Sawaya
Nathan Sawaya Artist Site • The Brick Artist Exhibits • “The Whistler’s Mother” • Art of the Brick
All Lego® artworks depicted on this page are © 2003-2015 Nathan Sawaya, Inc. All trademarks, servicemarks, and copyrights are property of their respective owners.
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