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Pearls from artists* # 421

Mexico City

Mexico City

*an ongoing series of quotations – mostly from artists, to artists – that offers wisdom, inspiration, and advice for the sometimes lonely road we are on.

The economic meltdown that followed the crash of the U.S. stock market in 1929 shattered the country’s faith in itself.  With one third of the country unemployed and droughts devastating the Midwest, many Americans doubted their ability to endure and triumph.  More than ever, as the American novelist John Dos Passos asserted, the country needed to know “what kind of firm ground other men, belonging to generations before us, have found to stand on.”  Guided by the Mexican muralists, whose art they had ample opportunities to study in reproduction and exhibition, American artists responded by seeking elements from the country’s past, which they mythologized into epics of strength and endurance in an effort to help the nation revitalize itself.

Thomas Hart Benton led the charge.  Long a vociferous critic of European abstraction as elitist and out of touch with ordinary people, Benton hailed the Mexican muralists for the resolute public engagement of their art and for portraying the pageant of Mexican national life, exhorting his fellow American artists to follow their example in forging a similar public art for the U.S., even as he firmly rejected the communist ideology that often inflected the Mexican artists’ work.  African American artists were likewise inspired by the Mexican muralists’ celebration of the people’s fight for emancipation.  In creating redemptive narratives of social justice and liberation, artists such as Charles White and Jacob Lawrence transformed that struggle for freedom and equality into a new collective identity, one that foregrounded the contribution of African Americans to national life.        

Vida Americana:  Mexican Muralists Remake American Art, 1925 – 1945, edited by Barbara Haskell

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Pearls from artists* # 91

Mexico City

Mexico City

* an ongoing series of quotations – mostly from artists, to artists – that offers wisdom, inspiration, and advice for the sometimes lonely road we are on.

I’m struggling a lot financially, struggling a lot to keep my group going, struggling to keep going in every way, but I feel like I try so hard because every time that I’m able to go to a college or to be with young people they need to know that there is this “anything is possible” idea.  They need to at least see that.  I intend to continue nevertheless.  Somehow that seems very important right now.  It isn’t that you go to school just to find out everything you need to get a job or something.  We never thought of what we did as a job.  We thought of it as our work, our life.  Then there was a certain point, I think, in the eighties where people thought of their identity as this and then what you did was a job.  There was a separation between the two things.    

I pray that now there will be some loosening and we’ll feel this sense of, just as you said so beautifully, space and breath.  No one’s breathing.  That’s why I feel that doing art is so important.  It makes you dig in your heels even more.  It’s a life-and-death kind of thing.  What is the other alternative?  The other alternative is that you’re living in a culture that’s basically trying to distract you from the moment.  It’s trying to distract you from your life.  It’s trying to distract you from who you are, and it’s trying to numb you, and it’s trying to make you buy things.  Now, I don’t really think that that’s what life is about.  I’m excited because now I have this real sense that there’s this counterculture, you could say, or counter-impulse.  it’s not for-and-against, but there is a kind of dialectic where there’s a kind of resistance you can actually hit against, or at least address in one way or the other.    

Meredith Monk quoted in Conversations with Anne:  Twenty-four Interviews, by Anne Bogart

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Q: What’s the point of all of this? Shouldn’t we be discussing how to end poverty or promote world peace? What can art do?

Lightning Field, Quemado, NM

Lightning Field, Quemado, NM

A:   I happen to recently have read an inspiring book by Anne Bogart, the theater director.  It’s called, “and then you act:  making art in an unpredictable world” and she talks about such issues.  I’ll quote her wise words below:
 
“Rather than the experience of life as a shard, art can unite and connect the strands of the universe.  When you are in touch with art, borders vanish and the world opens up.  Art can expand the definition of what it means to be human.  So if we agree to hold ourselves to higher standards and make more rigorous demands on ourselves, then we can say in our work, ‘We have asked ourselves these questions and we are trying to answer them, and that effort earns us the right to ask you, the audience, to face these issues, too.’  Art demands action from the midst of the living and makes a space where growth can happen.
 
One day, particularly discouraged about the global environment, I asked my friend the playwright Charles L. Mee, Jr., ‘How are we supposed to function in these difficult times?  How can we contribute anything useful in this climate?’  ‘Well,’ he answered, ‘You have a choice of two possible directions.  Either you convince yourself that these are terrible times and things will never get better and so you decide to give up, or, you choose to believe that there will be a better time in the future.  If that is the case, your job in these  dark political and social times is to gather together everything you value and become a transport bridge.  Pack up what you cherish and carry it on your back to the future.'”

“…  In the United States, we are the targets of mass distraction.  We are the objects of constant flattery and manufactured desire.  I believe that the only possible resistance to a culture of banality is quality.  To me, the world often feels unjust, vicious, and even unbearable.  And yet, I know that my development as a person is directly proportional to my capacity for discomfort.  I see pain, destructive behavior and blindness of the political sphere.  I watch wars declared, social injustices that inhabit the streets of my hometown, and a planet in danger of pollution and genocide.  I have to do something.  My chosen field of action is the theater.”

Comments are welcome!

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