I do consider the practical contributions I have made as a teacher, but I sometimes wish my talents ands inclinations had led me to be something more “activist” so that I could pursue positive change in the world: Maybe a lawyer who could be active in politics or a scientist who might make a contribution to health. But I once expressed this regret out loud and was surprised by the wisdom of the person who responded: “Why would you feel like that? I’m a lawyer and I don’t feel I can do more good than you. I’m limited in countless ways. The artist really gets to the root of all forces, healing and leading in a fundamental way.” I found myself embarrassed to have to be reminded of the importance of art and also grateful to have such an affirming response. I know in my heart that all artists contribute, whether they are stars of the art world or just one of many “fireflies.”
Do times of controversy bring out the political in other artists? I have rarely been inspired to use political subject matter in my art, although I do think visual satire, of which Daumier may have been the highest expression, is very powerful. But I have felt the call to use art to be a social activist. I have tried, unsuccessfully, to organize an exhibit of art to promote ecology, specifically of the rainforest. I did successfully organize an exhibit of art to honor the first anniversary of 9/11. For years I organized an exhibit of our church’s artists with a lottery to raise money for a stipend for an art student. I have also curated an exhibit of the art of an Holocaust survivor who had begun to express his feelings about this experience by welding scrap metal into sculptures. I complemented this exhibit with a symposium on the Holocaust for our college students.
My post-graduate school job entailed rounding up and cataloguing the fine art produced during the Gemini & Apollo moonshots- not the commercial illustrations, but artists like Rauschenberg and Jamie Wyeth, who had a carte blanche to explore the grounds and buildings of Cape Canaveral -even to experience some of the astronaut’s training, like weightlessness. My boss had the foresight to realize that, although every nut and bolt was being photographed during the challenge of going to the moon, someday we would need what it was holistically, impressions from artists’ eyes. I recently recognized several of the paintings I helped to get to the Space Museum archives as the visual inspiration for scenes in the movie “First Man.”
I decided that my more political actions are also a form of my art and, as such, I may give them the time they deserve. I write letters to the editor, ones that get printed And it is a form of a “Performance” when one holds a Tea and Sympathy gathering for fellow women disappointed in the outcome of an election
So what are your beliefs about social activism and/or political action?