Making Art & Marching

We Shall Persist

Today I was reminiscing with some high school classmates on Facebook about a school walkout I took part in back in 1973. My school was dealing with severe budget cuts. The school board planned to reduce the number of classes in a day, eliminate summer school, allow student trips only when the kids could fund them themselves, and close the student’s outdoor smoking lounge because of the expense of having a security guard. A large number of students marched downtown to the store owned by the chair of the school board to present our demands. We then spent the rest of what was a beautiful day lounging on the school’s lawn. The only accomplishment was retention of the smoking lounge. A lot of kids didn’t even know why we were marching. Looking back some thought the walkout was stupid and pointless. I remember that I enjoyed it. And, though a little disappointed in the outcome, I mostly felt good about trying.

I have marched a number of times since, mostly at antiwar demonstrations. Then as now, these efforts did not always accomplish the stated goals. Just the same, I have come to see such public demonstrations as an important part of being a responsible citizen in a democracy. Last year when I went to the Women’s March in D.C. I went with the intention of taking pictures to use in a series of paintings which I am calling “Madonna’s Among The Marchers”. I wanted to carry my ideas about civic responsibility and women’s rights into my art.

Today, as I was working on the underpainting for the fourth image in that series, I left the news on in the background. A new generation of teenagers had walked out on their schools and were marching to demand the government address the epidemic of gun violence in our country. I was really proud of them. There are more walkouts and marches planned this spring. I hope to join the kids in at least one of them.

I want the kids to know that their efforts can help bring about change. And, even when their demands are not met, it is important to keep communicating the change they want to see. Writing to our representatives, marching, and especially voting, are just some of the ways we can demonstrate what we value and that we intend to hold our government accountable. Another way is to let your art speak.

As an artist, choosing to make art that tells a difficult story, or that expresses a political opinion can draw criticism and threaten sales. For me art cannot just be about commerce. It has to have meaning beyond celebrating life’s beauty. I know that most people think it is foolish to indulge in such endeavors. I guess I am just a fool for the love of humanity, so I shall persist – in marching and in making art.

Genius at work?

Working Mothers
Working Mothers (detail in progress) Acrylic on canvas – Secondary underpainting.

I am about a third of the way through the third of four paintings in a series which I am calling “Madonna’s Among the Marchers” which honors the hopes and passions inspired by the Women’s March in January 2017.

My intention in referencing the Madonna, is in part to tell women’s stories that have been traditionally told by men, in the voice of a woman. The Madonna-like poses in my paintings are meant to be reminiscent of those ancient compositions. But the technical style, and placement of some of the most venerable feminine archetypes in the context of standing up for their rights, snatches the iconography away from the cold marble depictions of passive long-suffering faithfulness.

Leonardo da VinciDon’t get me wrong I still love those ancient works of art. They inspire me. I still feel like I can learn from their creators regardless of their gender. As a matter of fact, this week I have been listening to Walter Isaacson’s book Leonardo da Vinci. It is a terrific book particularly for painters and other creative types. Listening to the story of how Leonardo developed his great works, took me back to art school and helped me to be more aware of how those time honored skills I learned so long ago still held up in the techniques I use today. Crosshatching, chiaroscuro, and sfumato. These all still have a part in what I do now.

Isaacson finishes the book with ways we can be like Leonardo. It was validating to hear him reiterate several of the lessons on creativity which I wrote about in my book The Delmarva School of Art. There were some others which I did not write about, yet I found really helpful. One that really stood out for me was his recommendation to procrastinate more.

Leonardo often did not finish projects or took literally years to complete them. Isaacson says that Leonardo needed the freedom to procrastinate to sail from one great insight to another in pursuit of doing great work. He also said that the seemingly off topic lessons he learned while procrastinating often led to important break throughs that were worth waiting for.

What a revelation. I was infected by the “Puritan work ethic” at an early age. So, my proclivity for procrastination has been one of my great shames often leading me to periods of depression. Who knew I could have attributed my lazy behavior to evidence of a “genius” at work? Thank you, Walter Isaacson.