The Right Art for Right Now?
Updated: Dec 31, 2020
This past week has been stressful here in the United States to say the least. To relax and avoid compulsively checking election updates every few minutes, I turned to art (and, of course, Office reruns. Dwight: "Who is Justice Beaver?" Jim: "A crime-fighting beaver."). While carving a new print certainly has been therapeutic, a thought does keep creeping into the back of my mind: Is this the right kind of art for right now?
My prints' subject matter consists largely of scenic landscapes and roadside Americana with some small Celtic knots here and there. I love the style I've found, but sometimes I wonder, where's the message? Sure, the scenic images are meant to convey an environmental message: "This world is beautiful, so let's keep it that way." But that's pretty darn subtle. And as for the roadside print series and '57 Chevy, I realize they harken back to earlier decades of the U.S., which I truly hope no one misinterprets as a longing for a return to that time. To be clear, the '50s and '60s were a great era for things like music and design aesthetics, but I'd never trade away the social progress we've made since.
Sometimes I look at work from printmakers like Jamaal Barber or Carlos Barberena and think, "Man, I'd love to put out art like that, something that makes a powerful statement." Maybe I will at some point, but I know that forcing a message is bound to fall flat. Besides, as a straight, white, man, it really is best in this moment to step back and elevate voices of artists from different communities, especially marginalized ones.
What I keep reminding myself - and I what I want to remind other artists - is that art matters, no matter what. The very act of creation helps make the world a better place. If there's an important message behind it, one that can inspire action and change, great. If not, maybe it will at least bring a smile to someone else's face, and that's pretty important right now too.
I also have to remind myself that art is not the only way to bring about positive change in the world. We still need people donating their time, talents, and money to candidates and causes that will move us forward. It's ok to be an artist and an activist without having those worlds explicitly cross over.
So I think I'll cut myself some slack and keep on printing landscapes and Celtic knots while supporting artists who are spreading messages of a better tomorrow. For starters, I'd love for you to look at the work of my good friend Angie King who put out possibly the most beautiful artistic statement I saw during election week.