Art in a Time of Anxiety

posted in: All, Art Lessons, USA | 16

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.

16 Responses

  1. john ellis

    great post Amy. just reading that Ibsens play “enemy of the people” has jumped up in the number of productions around the world in the era of trump. Art is or can be dangerous!

  2. Mary Ann

    I wish too that I could do more to change the politics of our time. Like so many others, I haven’t found a way except to vote, read to be more aware, and do my best to make the world a better place for those I love and everyone in my community. Reading your blog encourages me.

  3. Joe Gorman

    Some art reflects the turmoil of the times (Bob Dylan, CSNY, Woody Guthrie) and some reflects other currents that are timeless (Rolling Stones, Stax/Volt and Motown) and other artists choose to raise people’s moods in times of turmoil (bubblegum music, disco, many one hit wonders). And pulp fiction often outlives the so-called classics. Different strokes for different folks.

  4. Pam

    I am grateful to the artist that allows us a respite. An artist whose rich palette and sensitivity to the beauty and normal around her brings us joy. And an artist who travels the world and brings her travels to us with love. Thank you Amy

  5. Lynnette

    The anxiety I feel because of our current political climate makes time in the studio all the more important. Thank you for this wonderful post, my friend. So appreciated!

  6. Rita Moffitt

    As you said, artists can express for others and you do in so well in your art as well as in your words. I agree that you should work with passion, and if a political, controversial subject is on your pallet, then go for it.
    That said, I avoid war movies and sometimes dramas about “what happened” because they depress me. So I am glad that you want to share the little, joyful moments. Thank you.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *