In Times of Upheaval, Does Art Even Matter?

Water Series: Taught by Thirst, original art by Dawn Boyer

It's been a while. How are you doing?

I apologize for the silence on my end. I got a bit overwhelmed there for a while. I'm sure I'm sure you can relate, given all that's happening.

Aside from the pandemic, in my case and for a couple of months, it was mostly in a good way--I moved into a new home (not the best timing, but it worked out well, thank goodness), moved my studio from its former location at the Salmon Falls Mills into said new home, and have been immersed in teaching my online course, as well as getting great joy from watching my students grow and find their artistic voices. There are many happy stories to tell, and I will tell them, in time.

But not now. 

Now is a time for a different kind of story.

One of being on the precipice of despair as I watched things happen in our country I never would have imagined to be so ugly. 

One of doubting myself and my place as an artist in such a world.

One of wondering if things can ever really change for the better and feeling despondent because of it.

I was relatively fine for a while--maybe it was the bubble of my new life, of being swept up with so much that's new. I even comforted another artist friend who had been hit much harder than I had been by the events of the past weeks and months. I am, at the core, an optimistic person (though, trust me, nowhere near as good as Pollyanna)--I've been through some tough stuff and managed to come out the better for it--and I expressed my hope and belief that we would right ourselves as a country, that one could feel a surge in humanity, in people speaking truth to power. There had to be hope in that, right?

And then I saw events unfold I never thought I'd see ... what I keep seeing ...
It was a necessary wakeup call.

And it stopped me dead in my tracks.

In heart-wrenching times of upheaval, artists can doubt their value or purpose. They wonder why they should paint--after all, what can some color on canvas do to make anything better or more whole? What kind of purpose can it truly serve?

This has been true for me, and it has been difficult to create anything--paintings, art lessons, you name it. After the terrifying chill of watching incomprehensible displays of inhumanity, I felt a numb, slowing down inside, a need to shift into a much different gear. I clung to the smaller, more manageable things in life because the big ones were too much to process.

Then, like many others in our nation, I hit a breaking point, and I realized I need to paint, to meditate, to not only focus but insist on joy, if for nothing more than to keep myself centered and gain the strength I need to do whatever good I can in my own small way to help effect change. My weapons may be the brush and the squeegee, but they're powerful in their own right.

I plunged into a personal time of upheaval and grief to create the piece you see at the top of this post. It helped me process so many conflicted emotions and eventually rise again. I show it to you in case it helps you do the same.

What I found is a deep, deep well of hope inside that can never dry. Never. 

Water was the metaphor. No matter how things break apart, inside and out, no matter how things seem turned upside down, there is a well for us all to turn to, an ocean, a sea, of depth, and comfort, and shimmers of light, of awareness. We may feel we're drowning, but our collective heart still pulses in a rhythm that moves us forward, into a better way of being, of life-sustaining strength, if we allow it to teach us, to heal us. 

Art always has meaning. Always. I bring my story to it; you bring yours. Together, we become richer for the experience.

Some artists make powerful political statements with their work that shock us into seeing things differently. That is necessary.

Others, like me, insist on beauty, no matter how quiet or subtle, even in the midst of horrific circumstance. We strive to soothe, to comfort, to provide a refuge. We don't deny the suffering or struggle; instead, we embrace it and say, "Look what can happen because of it." If it helps ease another's suffering, isn't that worthwhile work?

I say yes. Easing suffering today is most definitely necessary.

This is why I need to paint.

I am humbled and grateful for the reminder.

I am also grateful to my friend Diane for our conversation and for helping me feel and think all of these things through. I approach my work with much more mindfulness now.

May we all rise in kindness, strength, and compassion. May we all be more mindful. And may we all seek deeper awareness, in our own way, because it is so needed.

Wishing you all the very best in these uncertain and difficult times,

P.S. In the beginning of this post, I asked how you're doing. I mean it. I would love to hear, and if you're willing to share what gives you strength, I'd love to hear that, too.