Recent events in our country have me wondering, "What is my role as an artist in this particular time period?" I wonder if there is something more "useful" I could be doing. Should I be taking a more active role in politics? Should I listen to news while I am painting in order to be better informed? Should, should, should...
I received an encouraging letter from Director Anita Walker of the Massachusetts Cultural Council, a state agency that allocates funds for the arts in my state. This past year I received a $2,000 grant for my art from the Mass. Cultural Council. Their funding comes from the National Endowment for the Arts, which many know is now under threat under the new administration. I worry that grants like the one I received may go away under a new President and administration. But I come back to this encouragement.
Anita Walker's letter of 1/11/17 asked, "What is the role of artists in American politics? Do they have a place? How do they best serve our nation? As a new President prepares to take office, the voice of the artist is being heard. It is not just the artists with name and fame, such as Meryl Streep at the Golden Globes, that are in the headlines, but also the artists who contribute their individual identities and talent to the ensemble, where harmony and not division is required. From the cast of "Hamilton" and the Rockettes to the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, individual artists in these organizations have become symbols of a country divided."
Ms. Walker went on to cite President John F. Kennedy's affirmation of "the arts and the artist as significant in the life of a nation... in fact, central, a test of the quality of our institutions..." She included an excerpt of a speech he gave at Amherst College, October 26, 1963 to honor the New England poet Robert Frost.
JFK: "If sometimes our great artists have been the most critical of our society, it is because their sensitivity and their concern for justice, which must motivate any true artist, makes him (/her) aware that our Nation falls short of its highest potential. I see little of more importance to the future of our country and our civilization than full recognition of the place of the artists. If art is to nourish the roots of our culture, society must set the artist free to follow his (/her) vision wherever it takes him (/her). We must never forget that art is not a form of propaganda; it is a form of truth... In free society art is not a weapon and it does not belong to the spheres of polemic and ideaology. Artists are not engineers of the soul." (the inclusion of the feminine pronouns is my addition)
Wow... "little of more importance to the future?" That addresses my question of usefulness pretty directly, but in a surprising way. I appreciate deeply the idea that artists are to be 'set free' to follow our own vision. I also resonate with Kennedy's assertion that art is a form of truth. With all the rhetoric of 'fake news' and 'alternative truths,' we can begin to get even more jaded and disillusioned - what is truth? I share JFK's belief that art should not be used as propaganda or a weapon. Art has been used that way, and continues to be, in communism, advertising, portraiture, photography, Nazism... my take-away then, is that we artists must be careful to not get caught in a trap of being "useful" to an agenda. We can think about truth and vision, using our "sensitivity and concern for justice" in order to "nourish the roots of our culture," as JFK affirms and asserts.
I find my truth in God and in the beauty and mystery of the world he made (I embrace the idea that there is a loving God who created the world, and that science is how it got done). I'm most inspired by 20th century painter Georgia O'Keeffe and the Canadian Group of Seven painters whose tradition I follow. My paintings in the last decade or so have been landscapes that have no people or man-made objects in them, with a few exceptions. I feel that the moment a bridge or a man is in a painting, all of a sudden that painting is about that man or that bridge. The landscape then is relegated to play second fiddle, and becomes the backdrop. No, I want the landscape to be the star player. I want to show the glory of light, shadow, color, composition, line, and mark-making. I reflect what I see through my soul and share this with the viewer. Many people feel drawn to, and resonate with, these pieces. Could this be a truth?
JFK also asked the famous question, "Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country."
I am a US citizen and a Christian. So my citizen heart says, "Sure, I'd like to be helpful to my country." But as a Christian, God ultimately does not ask me to be "useful" to him. Asking God if I am useful is not the right question, it misses the point. He is God - he did not make me to be useful - I'm not a machine, programmed for others' benefit or profit. Nowhere in Scripture does it say that I am supposed to be useful in order to be valuable to him. He loves me unconditionally simply because I exist, and asks me to love him and love my neighbor.
A better question I can ask myself is a 'yes, and' approach: "Can my art be somehow relevant and helpful to my culture and nation as JFK asserts?" AND "Am I loving God and my neighbor through my the work of my hands? How am I doing that?" To me, these sound like better visions and truths to pursue. Let me keep my focus on these pursuits even as I stay informed and passionate about what is going on with the current leadership in my country.
One thing I hope to do is to paint at one of our country's National Parks. I hope to contribute more money directly to conservation of ocean and land, if my tax dollars will not be helping through the Environmental Protection Agency in the foreseeable future.
Thank you to any readers of my blog, visitors to my site, and those who know me and keep me motivated as an artist. I am honored to recently receive another award - apparently this blog is rated one of the Top 75 Painters' Blogs in the world. Wow. Thank you everybody. Please comment, if you would like, in order to foster community and contribute your thoughts to the mix.
Ripple Effect, 2008
As 2016 draws to a close, I’m thinking a lot of all that I have to be thankful for. Even with our country and the world experiencing massive change and uncertainty, I have found some respite in the season of Christmas. While many things around us change constantly, some things never change, and for me, one of those things is God.
Recently our family saw a great student production of Fiddler On The Roof. The main theme is tradition, set in a Jewish community facing external political tension and change. The main character Tevye feels powerless and fearful. This has resonated deeply with me during our current political season of change, and of the breaking of many political and diplomatic traditions that I hear about on the news. While I am all for change and questioning traditions, there are some traditions I am finding myself wanting to cling to, like the patriarch Tevye, who calls tradition his anchor. One of the most famous lines from this musical is, “Because of our tradition, everyone here knows who he is, and what God expects him to do.” I was struck by this line in today's context, and as I meditate on who God has made me to be and what he expects me to do... just one person out of billions, but who can make choices to make a positive impact on my community.
Another thing that has been helpful to me is looking at time with renewed perspective (another theme of the play, reflected in the song Sunrise, Sunset). Taking it one day at a time on the rough or stressful days… planning and looking forward to special events… thinking about time in terms of seasons… putting seasonal things away and bringing out old things I’d almost forgotten about… like cleaning up the outdoor games off the porch and putting the garden ‘to bed’ for winter. At least for those of us living in New England, and for anyone who follows certain faith traditions, we have a calendar to follow that is directed by both seasonal change and holy-days (holidays). Those who follow Jesus are now in the season of Advent, which means we are waiting for Christmas Day and following the biblical stories leading up to the night of Jesus’ birth. Festivities, traditions, and rituals are huge for us in Advent.
Earlier this month, I had a Holiday Art Salon Open House in our home, and friends came over. To get ready, my husband and I moved furniture. I hung up sixteen of my paintings. The kids picked out a full, tall, fragrant Christmas tree and decorated it. These activities of preparation brought a lot of joy to us and have now given us a home that is fun to be in for the whole month as we 'wait' for the arrival of Christ(mas). Contrary to more sober and austere beliefs from my own puritanical Anglo-Saxon Protestant heritage, I feel there is nothing wrong with treating a holy season with abundance, showing way more love and displaying way more beauty than is necessary. Using certain heirloom stemware passed down to me, for example, just makes me feel happy. I think about the family members who chose it, purchased it, touched it, toasted on special occasions with it, sipped from it. I think of how many boxes and moves it has been through over 80-plus years, and how lucky I am that these wine glasses have not broken. These are symbols that give me a tangible connection from my past to my present. I got a kick out of seeing my guests enjoying drinking from these vintage etched glasses at the Open House.
Painting is who I am, and what I feel God expects me to do, but in the sense of a joyful calling I feel, not out of a sense of duty. I am painting forward, while keeping rooted, aiming for fresh progress and not for nostalgia or simple pat answers in my painting. While the world may be in turmoil, and I must admit my stomach has been queasy many days, one of my mainstays is working hard at making new discoveries in beauty. Maybe this feels too luxurious, like fancy stemware. But, maybe this is needed even in the face of uncertain times, not just for me, but for others' sake. Where do we turn when we are stressed, sad, in need? To the senses, for comfort. Senses find a resting place in songs, in color, in nature, in tastes, in beauty, in places of worship or spaces for quiet reflection. Hopefully, there, we can be met by God to give us the deepest peace and solace.
I wish you and yours a beautiful holiday season, with whatever you reflect on at the years’ end, whatever traditions or beliefs you choose to observe, however you celebrate, and with whomever is close to you. May there be Peace on Earth even in the midst of the change and uncertainty we are all facing together. We are one people, even if some say we are not. May we be encouraged by, and give way to, generous displays of brotherhood, sisterhood, and love in 2017.
Photo: © Linda Haas Photography
The nine of us pictured here were selected this past spring to create a portfolio of art. Each of us has worked on a limited edition of 50 pieces that will be divided into 'shares' similar to a CSA. Our project is called CSArt, funded by the Mass. Cultural Council and facilitated by the Cambridge Arts Council.
Meet my new friends in this artists' collective, clockwise from left:
Linda Haas, Estelle Disch, Janet Malenfant, Marcia Cohen, Melissa Glick, Margarette Mattos, Miriam Mireli, Anne Plaisance, Deidre Tao. All our artist profiles and websites can be found here.
The piece I created for this project is a painting that will be made into giclée prints for collectors. I invite you into the studio and into my process... Here is Riverbend at Dusk on the easel as it developed over the course of the summer.
This may sound strange to most people, but winter is actually one of my favorite times of year. I grew up in Massachusetts and don’t disparage the snow or cold – I welcome it. I love the clothing I bring out for that time of year, I enjoy the different pace of life, and I embrace the special foods and flavors that are prepared and enjoyed only in winter. I tell new friends who relocate here that you just have to give into winter instead of resisting it, and you’ll be a lot happier.
I’m inspired by several artists of the 20th century, among them the painters of the ‘Group Of Seven’ of Canada. One of this group’s most prominent members was Lawren Harris, who recently had an exhibit of monumental winter paintings at the MFA Boston, curated by (comedian and avid art collector) Steve Martin. I had already known Harris’s work of course, so was really excited to go check out this curated show in the spring. If you saw these paintings, too, you may see some influence of Harris in my piece I’m working on.
The image evolved from a number of pictures I took the previous winter, in late afternoon just before sunset when the sun was low, and I am working hard to capture that moment while still allowing the piece to feel fresh. It is a challenge I love. This location is near family I have who live near Nasketucket Bay, a quiet and sheltered inlet off of Buzzards Bay in the South Coast region of Massachusetts.
The original painting is currently on exhibit and available for sale through the Marion Center Art Gallery in Marion, MA, pictured here. Contact Kim Teves at the gallery for inquiries: firstname.lastname@example.org
Visitors enjoy the Marion Art Center's exhibit. Pictured here are three of my paintings including "Riverbend at Dusk" as well as watercolor paintings by Peggy Call Conley.
Sneak peek of some of the paintings in the upcoming show:
My next adventure is to show a selection of 18 of my Water's Edge Series paintings done in the last three years in an exhibit at the Marion Art Center Gallery. I am thrilled about this opportunity. I submitted my portfolio for consideration last year to the jury panel, and was accepted.
I am paired with fellow regional artist Peggy Call-Conley, a watercolor artist from the South Coast region of southeastern Massachusetts. It turns out she and I are both alumni of UMass Dartmouth's art program. I look forward to meeting her and seeing her work in person.
The committee will hang the show in the two gallery spaces of the Art Center. I will also have giclée prints of my work for sale, just as I do at Cambridge Open Studios.
The show opens Friday night, September 30th from 6 to 8 pm with refreshments, and you are welcome to come! It remains until November 10th and is taken down November 11th, so it is a generous six week show with staffed gallery hours Tues - Friday, 1 to 5pm, Saturdays 10 -2.
If you care to explore the pretty coastal town of Marion and come down to see our art in person, which is the best way to see art, I warmly welcome you to do so! Marion is less than 25 miles from Cape Cod. The Cape in the fall is beautiful, so you could make a day of it.