It happens slowly. At first, you notice the little starling who seems to fly out from the roof eaves whenever you open your main door. And then you hear him chirping away just outside your bedroom window at 3, 4, and 5:00 a.m. Finally, you surprisingly notice he's nested just above your entrance wall light in a safe alcove. Built himself a tidy nest with a heat source, easy access, and all in a protected environment. Birds are like that. They kind of well, creep up on you.
And while its true that birds have been prevalent in art since before the 1800's and not just in the United States (the drawing above comes from Germany), it's also true that their resurgence in today's art is unmistakable. This is no new revelation to Wisconsin's Woodson Art Museum and their annual Birds in Art program which has been in effect as a major fundraiser since 1976. Or take worldwide nature art lovers and conservation proponents (such as Artists for Conservation) who have focused on various natural elements since the cows started jumping over the moon.
What I see in review of tons of art magazines, websites, gallery openings, and new museum acquisitions, is a resurgence of bird images, bird life related themes (nests, eggs, feathers), and birds presented in ad hoc methods through paint, collage, murals, and sculpture. Who can argue that the depiction of both the owl and the raven have grown substantially in past years? Or that birds have held a steady place in Asian art for centuries? But we notice a new art trend with the bird being presented in a not-so-flighty way. The birds in art today are somewhat of a pseudo psychological element - the carriers of secrets, the communicators of thoughts, a dancing and lively presence in dark fields, or perhaps memories of little things long forgotten.
In this four-part series, we will review bird art as it appears in traditional art, contemporary art, altered art and new media. We'll show you some examples, we'll pose questions about meaning, and we'll try to demonstrate in a small way, how birds in art are enjoying a healthy and robust resurgence today.
I know a place, in the ivy on a tree
by John Drinkwater