“This is the time for every artist in every genre to do what he or she does loudly and consistently. It doesn’t matter to me what your position is. You’ve got to keep asserting the complexity and the originality of life, and the multiplicity of it, and the facets of it. This is about being a complex human being in the world, not about finding a villain. This is no time for anything else than the best that you’ve got.”
― Toni Morrison
|Can You Hear My Voice?
25″ x 40″ Acrylic, Ink & Pastel on Canvas
I spend a lot of time thinking about what art should mean, what my art means. Sometimes I get bogged down with the thought that, as an artist, I should be out fighting the good fight, championing a cause, slaying a villain through visual expression. These thoughts often become overwhelming. I’d love to do those things yet I still find myself painting particular images in a particular way. My way.
I wonder if I’m a horribly selfish artist.
I think about all the great artists and their topics. I consider who was great and why. I tease apart the emotions we know artists such as Kahlo, Pollack, and Van Gogh had, for example. These people were not great champions standing on mountaintops showing the world what the next steps should be toward ultimate peace and tranquility. They were highly emotional individuals who often struggled, and they expressed those struggles through their art. They showed the world who they were and in turn, held up a mirror to others.
While I was painting my latest piece, Can You Hear My Voice?, I thought about all this, getting bogged down and trying to remind myself that I don’t have to solve the world’s issue with a painting. As usual, I began by creating a background for the work. Then I painted a face (as I’m into faces lately
). Then I decided I didn’t like it so I took the unstretched canvas off the wall and turned the whole thing sideways. I decided to ignore what I’d already painted and began painting another face. It made no sense really. That’s the way I often paint. I plan very little. I just start and do what I feel like doing. I paint fast, listening to my emotions and instincts, to stop my hyperactive brain from over thinking.
As I continued working on the piece, I began to head in a downward spiral, thinking that it made no sense in any way and that, once again, it certainly didn’t relay anything that would qualify as world-saving or villain slaying. That’s when I started to get mad. Mad that I’d wasted my time and canvas. Mad that maybe I’m wasting my life. And then mad at myself for believing I need to satisfy “someone’s” definition of art for it to be deemed valuable. Mad that I’d be judged and that I am judged. The angrier I got, the more I did whatever I felt like doing to the work based on my instincts.
As I began to feel that the piece was nearly finished, I got happier. I liked the sort of sarcastic do-you-think-I’m-an-idiot? expression on the purple-ly faced girl and the red jagged line down the other’s face. I liked the way it looked as if the entire left 2/3rd of the piece might be exploding out of the misunderstood girl’s head with a small chunk of her brain exposed. I loved all the little creatures around them and the colors and the busy feel of it. I loved the realization that no one could replicate my work.
Then I came across Toni Morrison’s quote. I read it and knew that she’s right. And Kahlo and Pollack and Van Gogh were right. They painted who they were as individuals. They gave to the world proof that we are a vast composite of unique individuals, and that in its self holds never ending hope for our future.
I remembered a wonderful book I read by Kazuo Ishiguro. His novel, Never Let Me Go, is about a society who raises children for the purpose of donating organs once they mature into adults. The kids grow up in special “schools” and are taught their purpose early in life. One of the administrators involved keeps a program going for the kids that focuses on art. Their days are filled with creating art. They sense that it’s important yet they don’t really know why. It turns out that the woman believes art is the one tangible thing that can prove these kids are human. That they are individuals and worthy of life. The art displays their souls.
My art displays my soul. Perhaps very few in this world give a real f-ck about the soul of Penelope Przekop but I believe I’m capable of putting my soul on canvas and so I will do it, not only for myself, but for all those who cannot or do not care to try. Perhaps someday, my efforts will be valued individually, as part of a generation, or as a small part of the human race. I don’t know, but I sense that it’s important.
So as I finished the piece and wanted to give it a title, I realized that, yes, it loudly portrays who I am as a complex human being in a way that is consistent with the work I’ve been doing over the last year or so. I took a deep breath and decided, Okay Toni Morrison, I will do this loudly and consistently. I’m ready.
Can you hear my voice? Can you see it? I hope so.