Art is not a thing

Foster jubilee
Oceanside Art Museum

Oceanside Art Museum

Art is not a thing; it is a way. Elbert Hubbard

Desperate to restore a greater sense of beauty in my life, I was to discover a pulsating heap of it in an unexpected place—at the Oceanside Museum of Art. And while I can find beauty in the smallest crevice sprouting a delicate tendril flower, there comes a moment when searching for another’s vision is required. Thomas Merton once said that “art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time,” and I believe it. In fact, it became the subtext for my being lured to the elegant surprise that is Oceanside’s pearl.

Now, Oceanside seems to be a scrappy town, flanked by Camp Pendleton at the northernmost edge serving as a gateway to North County with San Diego unfurled further south. As such, for all too many of us locals, Oceanside has become a pass-through point, with little attention given to what resides there. This need not be of course, and I suspect some visionary citizens established the Oceanside Museum of Art in 1995 in an effort to change that perspective, at least in part.

Since opening the museum doors, and after a 15,000 square foot expansion in 2008 with further plans to add even more space totaling 26,000, the Museum has grown not just in size but in stature.  And then-Museum director, Daniel Foster, sought to do just that but not all by himself, mind you. His vision involves a robust sense of community participation, symbiosis if you will. “Arts and culture can be catalytic to economic development,” he told me, further commenting that “a sound quality of life is an important factor a community needs.”  In addition to safe streets, effective law enforcement, beautiful parks and recreation, arts, culture and entertainment plays a vital role in any community, cutting across all demographic groups, believing it’s essential in creating a thriving town.

“Collaboration is key,” Foster said. “I love visioning and that opportunity was what excited me about coming here.” On the job less than a year, Foster set about developing an expansive role for the Museum, penetrating to other parts of North County, hoping to breathe greater artistic life by establishing  satellite exhibition galleries, including one in Rancho Santa Fe.

At this point I could tell you all kinds of facts about the Museum, facts like they receive over 22,000 visitors annually, not including programs. With 5 galleries having 4 diverse shows each per year, a massive amount of art by world class artists is being displayed at the museum. Further, they have established a Summer@ArtQuest art camp for children, which focuses on modern and contemporary projects using multiple mediums such as drawing, sculpture, painting and graphic design. During the school year, the Museum introduced art principles to 5th graders in Oceanside’s city schools. And, and, and…..

Art for everyone


Daniel Foster et. al.

In a turn, Foster tells me “we feel we’re here for the whole community.”  The museum offers “Free Sundays” from 1 to 4 PM the first Sunday of each month, and have military and senior discounts as well. And, as a social hub the Museum features artists spanning multiple mediums, while also presenting concerts, films, culinary events, fundraising parties, as well as the exhibitions themselves.

Which takes us to the exhibitions—the heart and life’s blood of the Museum. On my first trip, I basked in James Hubble’s sculpture show titled “In Search of Shadows,” which was stunning.  Did I say stunning?  It was breathtaking!! Adjectives fail.  On my second trip, I had the great good fortune to even meet the man while they were taking down the show to make way for the next one: Tony DeLap’s “Selection from 50 Years” exhibition.

Exhibitions already in place at the time I visited include Charles Arnoldi’s “Intersections”, Ernest Silva’s “Volcanoes and Full Moons”, and Jay Johnson’s “I Keep Looking for Things,” all of which I loved. Over the course of my own life, I have discovered you don’t have to be an artist or even study art to appreciate it, though that does enrich the experience. What you have to be is open to someone else’s eyesight, another’s vision or perspective of the world. Art requires a kind of surrendering to another, a captive entry into the artist’s interior world. In Arnoldi, I loved the depth of his colors, the ease in which he seems to use simple circles, swirls and squares, even just sticks, to create enormously energetic and almost swallowing pieces. In the sticks, it’s about space, suggesting untold freedom, to my mind.

In contrast, Silva’s work has an unlikely combination of brooding and comfort, which was both intriguing and familiar. I loved his use of deer, scarecrow and fire in several pieces, with my favorite item being the “River of Night, Music of Day” boat-with-umbrella-with elliptical-sphere thing. Finally, I found Jay Johnson to be lively and extensive, in a suggestively infinite sort of way, using spirals and spools to make lovely 3 dimensional pieces.

An art critic I’m not so you’ll have to forgive my primitive descriptions. An art appreciator I am, however. My appreciation runs from the river of just being human, seeking to know visually what another deems reflective of their experience in some way. Art is a collaborative effort not just between communities or constituents.  At its core, art is intimate, a one-on-one connection between artist and self, be it his or herself or another’s. After all, isn’t that what art is all about anyway? That intimacy?

But to be intimate with art is also to be there, in the flesh, viewing on your own.

For additional information about the Oceanside Museum of Art programs, exhibitions and events, please visit or call 760.435.3720 for details.