Above: “The GOP” 2017
The most profound lesson I learned in studying art history, is that art reflects the time in which it is made. It speaks to popular culture, economic shifts, historic events, and political winds. Art is not created in a vacuum, nor is it contained within studio or gallery walls. Artists often speak for others, expressing what they cannot say for themselves.
My mentor, Herman Keys, believed this fully and passed the idea down to me. He was a social realist and painted the most beautiful fire escapes imaginable. His work pointed out injustice and championed the dispossessed.
In these anxious times, I wonder about my own work. With so much turmoil boiling up, is there something more I should be doing? Should I be using my skills to weigh in?
Kathe Kollwitz (German, 1867-1945) made it her life’s work to depict the poverty, hunger, and horrors of war. The prints and drawings she created served to deepen our sense of compassion and empathy.
Honore Daumier (French, 1808-1879) used his talent to comment on social injustice and the corruption of politics, even serving six months in prison time for his unflattering depiction of the king.
Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881-1973) felt moved to paint his masterpice Guernica, which was a rebuke of the bombing of a small town for political reasons.
Norman Rockwell (American, 1894-1978) diverted from his usual sunny view of Americana in order to paint a controversial statement on civil rights.
These examples represent the smallest fraction of contributions by artists of conscience and I am grateful to them. Upon further consideration though, I’ve come to accept that although my subject matter is rarely political, it is enough.
It is enough to show up each day and work with passion. It is enough to share my view of the world through line, color, and choice of subject matter. It is enough to help others see better than they did before. It is enough to teach.
In a time of anxiety it is ultimately the small, good things that get us through.
Well that… and voting too.