“We’re living in a time of inconvenience/Compassion fails me with this meanness in the air/ Our city streets are filled with violence/So we close our doors to the city and pretend it’s not there…
This is a time of greed and power/where everyone needs to have someone to shove around/ Our children come to us for answers/Listening for freedom but they don’t know the sound…”
These are lines to a song written 26 years ago by Nancy Griffith, one of my favorite singer-songwriters. As I have been sitting here feeling sad, stressed and helpless, I realize that these words could have been written today.
As an artist, I am trying to get and stay motivated to make beautiful art, continually improve my skill, develop my own style and vision, write meaningful blog posts, and stay focused on my goal of making a modest living with my art so I can at least cover the cost of my art supplies (no small feat!). While the world seems to be falling down around my ears, I, like everyone else, am feeling inundated and overwhelmed by this “inconvenient time.”
So the question is, how do we get through this with any semblance of creative energy. I would love to make meaningful statement pieces with jarring or inspiring messages that would make people uncomfortable enough to vote, demonstrate, write letters, or even just talk to others about everything that’s going on right now. I’m not that artist. I want to run to my happy places, eat Cheetos, drink wine and pull the covers over my head. I am uncomfortable with being uncomfortable. I’m uncomfortable with making other people uncomfortable. This is my challenge. The only seemingly-related artistic response I have been able to create is the painting I have included here. It is based on a photo taken a few years ago by my sister-in-law. When I saw it in my photo file, it resonated with the way I think many of us are feeling about now. Is title is "Alone."
As I started to evaluate my own response to everything that is happening around me, I realized that the way I take power back and deal with the inconvenience and uncomfortableness is to DO something. Covid19, financial meltdowns, torrential rains destroying all of the work I have done in my back yard for weeks, anger and demonstrations in the streets in response to the actions of some racist, out of control police, highlighting many years of systemic racism that got us here, are just a few of the challenges making all of us uncomfortable. If you aren’t uncomfortable right now, you must be living deep in a cave somewhere.
At first, in response to this scary new virus that is attacking us, I started by making masks because it was the path of least resistance. I HATE to sew but I do know how and I have a sewing machine. I have made about 20 masks so far and given many of them to friends or donated them to the Rescue Mission. I stay home when I can, wear masks when I do have to go out, follow all of the guidelines, and still people are sick and dying all over the world. People are losing their incomes. People are hungry. It isn’t enough to curse at my sewing machine while I make masks. My late husband and I were supporters of the local food bank, Feeding America Southwest Virginia, for many years. I continue to donate money in his honor, but having money taken out of my account every month also isn’t enough. I just started volunteering there once a week. I can’t solve all of the problems of hunger and financial stress that are happening now but I can make this one small gesture to help.
Then there was the murder of George Floyd, followed by angry demonstrations peppered with violence and riots. Thankfully, the people who felt the need to hijack the message through violence and looting for whatever reasons they had, have been subdued, many of them by the peaceful demonstrators who didn’t want the message lost. As the demonstrations have progressed, the roots of systemic racisim in this country have been revealed. As a life-long WASP, I have, for many years, tried to be aware of my own interactions to avoid thoughts, actions or speech that might be racist. I now know that was also not enough. I didn’t know what I didn’t know. On this Juneteenth, 2020, I am resolved to continue working to educate myself more through books and conversations with black friends to try to increase my own understanding of what systemic racism really is and how I can make a difference in eliminating it. I realize I need to be the change, as the expression goes.
Now back to art. I have discovered that addressing the underlying stress of feeling helpless and ineffective through the small steps I have taken to try to make a difference, has helped quiet my mind enough to begin painting again. It turns out that the happy place where I want to eat Cheetos and drink wine is in my art studio. I have yet to dive into the Cheetos (orange is not really part of my palette), but there has been some wine consumed, I must admit, in my studio. When I spend a few hours each day doing things that help me feel like I am moving forward with the small contribution I can make toward solving the larger problems, I can go into my studio, take a deep breath, and paint. I am also working on getting better at the business side of my art so that I can reach my goal of sharing my paintings with a larger audience and even selling some! Most of the shows, workshops and classes have been cancelled so on-going learning through Zoom classes and critiques is helping me stay focused. Selling my art through on-line sales and working with small galleries that are just now starting to re-open are the targets of my marketing efforts. Stay tuned. I’m trying to ride the wave of these inconvenient times, but now I have a rudder and some sails to help me move in the direction I want to go rather than allowing myself to be swept out to sea.