I recently had the rare opportunity to complain about my college and high school simultaneously while having breakfast with an old friend who shared both experiences with me. One of my points of dissatisfaction was the chasm that exists between how hard I was told college would be versus how hard it actually has been. Despite overwhelming hype about the need to “get ready for college academics” from my very demanding high school, my friend and I agreed that we had in fact been over-prepared in some arenas.
One of these realms was critical analysis. My friend, an AP English veteran, and I, an IB diploma recipient, can write killer essays, but since neither of our majors require it, we find that we seldom get to work those brain muscles in the “real college world.” After realizing that I hadn’t nitpicked the meaning out of nuance in a while, I decided that I kind of miss it. My solution for my yearning is to amuse myself — and hopefully you, dear reader — with the task of breaking down the underlying meaning of the name “Arts Garage.”
Names are interesting. Parents take painstaking care when selecting one for their child, companies hire teams of people and — when they can afford to — spend exorbitant amounts of money on branding campaigns, all with the assumption that whatever syllables they select will set the tone for that crucial first impression. However, despite the significant effort that goes into choosing names, we rarely stop to notice them. Rather, we react to them without contemplating what the name is triggering for us subconsciously.
I began by asking myself, “What is unique about a garage?”
A garage is naturally communal. Whether you rent space or own it you almost always have to share it — whether it be with other tenants or family members or roommates. It’s also naturally amorphous. When someone gives you a tour of their house, you know, more or less, what to expect in a bathroom, a kitchen, bedroom, etc. A garage, however, conjures images of mismatched tools, bikes, old toys and sometimes a stuffed shark or moose head — in my family, anyway.
The garage is where you put the overflow of miscellaneous stuff. Nothing looks out of place because nothing can be “in place.” It’s not “designed,” so you don’t have to worry about every item color coordinating, and it’s not purely functional, so the juxtaposition of a blender and a bed sheet is acceptable. Since nothing belongs in a garage, it’s more of a resting place, rather than a permanent home. Things end up there before getting fixed, right after being purchased, and between projects.
So to recap, garages invite randomness, create space for things to land without commitment to permanence and they are usually used communally. Suddenly, it makes a lot of sense why a community arts venue with a mission to foster a home for Philadelphia’s artists would call itself a garage.
You may think the “art” portion of the name is pretty self-explanatory, but I think it can get a little more ephemeral than simply “what’s on the walls.” To me, art is in moments. “Art” happens whenever life pauses and feels surreal and perfect and just the experience you’re having is enough to totally engage and sustain you. Your phone doesn’t matter, you’re not hungry, you’re not tired, you’re not thinking of anything else because for that time, however fleeting or drawn out, you’re completely focused.
For artists, when something is inspiring, it gets catalogued — always figuratively, sometimes literally — for later use. Creating art is the work of combining all the input and inspiration — all those quiet, beautiful moments — into something that can be shared. For many artists, the act of creating can feel like work, for others, it feels as sustaining as the stillness that catalyzed it.
Whatever way it comes about, a finished piece can be displayed in an intentional way, with the goal of communicating the sum of those striking moments and how they made you feel to other people.
When you visit an art gallery or a concert, you are seeking art. Hopefully, you find something that you connect with. Sometimes you don’t. That’s because what conjures that stillness — that reverent “art” moment may be different on any given day. When you think about art this way, artists become vessels rather than creators of product.
It becomes evident why art school is so tough. Though there are technical skills to learn, the success of a piece — whether it manages to connect with its audience comes down to an intangible “it” factor.
At the end of the day, “art” is kind of like love; a complex feeling that is impossible to define but simultaneously invites endless exploration. You’ve probably heard someone describe a situation when there was “a lot of love in the room,” and you probably understood what they meant, even though if you tried to articulate the mechanics of it you would sound ramble-y and insane.
At its best, “art” is the temperature in a room. At its best, a garage is a space where everything has a place, because there’s no pressure to make things fit into a preconceived idea. In my professional opinion, between the inviting space and warm vibes, The Arts Garage lives up to its name.
Victoria Marchiony can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.