Understanding art can sometimes be a challenge, even for those who are versed in art history. On the other hand, being able to appreciate art can be akin to seeing the most beautiful sunset — it is a moment that stays with us and adds to how we view the world. The best way to achieve this deeper understanding of art is by having some insight into who the artist is and where their inspirations are drawn from. When this connection happens, a new and more profound understanding illuminates our thoughts and links us to the objective of the artist.

As an example, it is easy for us now to look at Monet’s waterlily paintings and marvel at their beauty. But even for Monet, when he was first making what are now considered masterpieces, he was confused and troubled because the paintings didn’t have a horizon line somewhere in the picture. In the beginning, he was so full of doubt that he destroyed more than 40 of these paintings, delaying his exhibition in Paris from 1904 to 1906.

That shift of painting the sky and trees as a reflection on the water versus a direct observation upended art history and opened the doors for abstract painting. What Monet did was make a painting about light and color, albeit through his observations of his waterlily pond. Little did he know what impact his paintings would have on the world and knowing about his studio practice of painting eight hours a day (standing the entire time), and his need to capture an impression of a fleeting moment, gives us a deeper understanding of what the artist was trying to share through paint.

We know this because the art history books say so. But what if we could visit the artists’ studios and see the environment they work in? What if we had a chance to chat with the artists and ask questions like, “What is your main source of inspiration?” or “What kind of music do you listen to while you work?” “Where did you study or are you self-taught?” These tidbits of information help the viewer to have a fuller under-standing of the artistic pursuit. And to add one more very important detail, the audience is a necessary part of fulfilling the artist’s vision because without viewers, it brings up the philosophical question: If a tree falls in the forest and there is nobody around to hear it, does it make a sound? In other words, the audience’s acknowledgment is important for the completion of the work. Well, as fate and luck would have it, there is a solution to this conundrum: the Tulare County Arts Consortium studio tours, featuring 28 artists and organized by Ampelio Mejia Perez, project director, in what is called the South Valley Art Tour (or SVAT).

The Arts Consortium was originally formed in 1993 by Helen Stanton, who wanted to tap into the talents of Visalia and create a platform for the arts to be shared with the public. Since then, the Arts Consortium has grown and now represents all of the arts for Tulare County. Its mission statement sums it up best: “As the arts council for Tulare County and the local arts partner for the California Arts Council, our mission is to bring together artists, organizations and art enthusiasts to advocate, promote and provide opportunities to create and celebrate the arts for all Tulare County residents and visitors.”

The Central Valley is best known for its agriculture, but the human spirit is known for creative expression, which can take many forms through music, dance, theater and the visual arts. Now with this being the sixth Art Tour, the role of the artist is being recognized and championed in Tulare County.

The studio tours will span two days and feature artists in Visalia, Exeter, Woodlake and Three Rivers. The genres of art that will be on display range from realist paintings, such as the intimate life-snapshots of Glen Hill, who worked for 24 years as a Disney animator and now makes his home in Three Rivers, to ceramicist Louise Fisher, whose pieces are inspired in part by her childhood memories of growing up on the family farm in Strathmore.

Other artists, such as Nadi Spencer, Linda Hengst, Lavone Sterling, Nonnie Rhoades and Stevi Daniels, are inspired by nature and the beautiful surroundings of the Sierra foothills. There are also artists who make work informed by science fiction, popular culture and its place in the San Joaquin Valley, such as Rob Lopez and Francisco Alonso. The different types of art materials used span the spectrum from the granite stone carvings of Mark Robinson, whose images are his own personal iconography that is inspired by the details of nature, to the lagenaria gourd sculptures of Sam McKinney, Toni Best and Cecile Garrison, of which Cecile has been using the natural shapes as the starting point to create lyrical abstractions for more 30 years. Toni’s and Sam’s sculptures are infused with the imprint of the native Indian basket-weaving designs are blended with their own imagination, creating mysterious objects of beauty.

There is another lens artists see our world through and that is photography. The photographs of international photographer Gary Greeny, known for his African wildlife images and who has been photographing Tulare County for the past two years, will be on view. Don’t be surprised when after seeing these photos, we will all be looking at our everyday surroundings with a new appreciation.

Pottery and ceramics are also a part of the tour, ranging from the geometric clock designs of Joan Bayes to the handcrafted and nature-inspired works of Christine Sell-Porter. And there is also the River Water Pottery shop that overlooks the south fork of the Kaweah River. And if a musical instrument and lessons are on the menu for the home, then Grace Note Music Studio in Visalia is the answer. Lessons in piano, guitar, violin, voice, banjo, bass, drums and flute are offered.

The drive to Three Rivers from Visalia or Exeter is one of pristine beauty with the citrus groves, rolling hills and valley oaks giving creative souls the necessary ingredients to create. Artists each have their own reasons for creating and their own means of expressing through the medium of their choice, be it paint, pottery, photography, sculpture, weaving or music. The arts, throughout recorded history, are a part of a global language that springs forth from a need to share the human experience. These artists (of which I listed only a few) who call Tulare County their home are a part of that history of artistic expression. Enjoy the South Valley Art Tour on March 28-29!

For tickets and information about the South Valley Art Tour, visit artsconsortium.org/events/acsvat.

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