Friday, November 11, 2016

some thoughts on seeing, politics, and art

A value study done with ink
Art is all about seeing. Everyone thinks they see just fine but they quickly learn when trying to do art that seeing, really seeing, must be learned.
It must be practiced. It's a skill to learn to see accurately and then there are skills you must learn to translate what you see into a two (or three) dimensional work. One of my favorite things to do in a class or when out with other plein air artists is to go around and look at how others interpret the same subject matter. Each artist has a unique voice and every work is done from a unique perspective and worked through a unique lens. This is what makes art so special to me. If everyone paints or sculpts or designs the same things the same way, that look alike, where is the interest? What is the point? None of us would call that true expression. We would likely call it boring.

And when viewing art, I enjoy art that makes me think. Makes me feel something. Startles me. Even that art that makes me mad. It might not be my thing, but it is someone else's thing and that gives it value. If you've never seen art (this includes all types of art) that spoke to social injustice or intolerance or oppression, you haven't seen some of the very best the art world has to offer. I say that with all honesty. Hard to look at. Hard to absorb. But expression of the unpleasant side of this life is every bit as relevant as art that makes you smile or feel all warm and fuzzy. Maybe more so. In fact, I would argue that many artists do what they do because of a need to speak in a way words could never do. And there is such power in that.

Which moves me to one reason I write. The freedom we have as artists to express ourselves. I have voted every election since I was old enough to vote. I consider it a privilege that not everyone across this globe has. I love this country for its freedoms and consider the First amendment very important as a country and as an artist. Some of the most moving and disturbing art I've ever seen has been the expression of oppression or social injustice. And that is what art should do. Move you. Speak. Reach out and touch you and make you feel something. Speak in a way that would not penetrate otherwise and move you in a way that makes you think. That makes you feel the need for change. That changes the way you think.

People exercised their first amendment right all over social media after the election and some of it was disturbing. Some of it just made me mad. At first. And then I realized that-wow!! We have the freedom to express that. Legally. Freely. And today being Veterans day I realize how we take this so for granted. I write this because Wednesday reminded me that regardless of what happened in that election, as an artist I have the freedom, the right, to express myself with my art in any way I chose. Legally. Wow. Think about that people!!! Think about your rights in this country. Its pretty awesome.

Do we still have issues, inequality, racism, (put your concern here)? We do. But as I stated above, seeing, taking the time to really learn to see, someone else's point of view, does not need to change your viewpoint, but it teaches you to appreciate another perspective. Really looking and really listening is a skill I know I need to learn better. And we have some issues we need to look at collectively as a people. But I feel challenged, not discouraged. I feel hopeful, not disillusioned. In the same way we value an artist's expression and see the value in the differences in each artist's work, we need to value other people's opinions and use them as opportunities to see, learn and grow. This world would be pretty bland if we all saw things the same way!! And blah, blah, blah. I'm sure you've heard all this and more in many places. So that, as Forest Gump says, is all I have to say about that.
painted without a drawing to get a feeling for the subject

And on to my last reason for writing: these studies are from a photo reference from a blog I read.  This is a missionary physician who practices in rural Angola. (The Kubackis in Angola) His posts are powerful and his words and the work he does moves me.  He speaks of a people that have little but are always joyful. A people who experience great suffering, poverty, poor healthcare and yet he says they are happy and there is little depression.  They live in tight community and they understand that life is hard and seem to accept it as part and parcel. And his posts remind me that we have it pretty good here. I contacted him and asked if I could use the photo banner from his blog for a painting. (And if you've been reading this blog, you know that I may or may not actually get that done!) I just felt the joy of these boys skipping down the dirt road. Who know's if the painting will be successful, but I hope when I'm done the painting speaks to some of the simple joys of life: friends, and skipping and youth and innocence. Not exactly a deep message, but I hope it speaks to the hope I feel from the good people in this world who still fight to make the world a better place.

So thank a Veteran today for your freedoms. Look up some art that was made to convey a message of some type of suffering or injustice. Let it move you. Make you uncomfortable. Think about change. And about listening. Seeing. About learning to do it better. And maybe make some art--it's what we do!!


  1. Well said Michelle. I tried to paint an "angry" work. It was very difficult, so much so that it got changed into something unexpected and positive. "Art Therapy"!

    1. Thanks Eddi. I think maybe you just didn't stay in that angry place long enough-and that's who you are-positive and happy. That work is just as important!