Art in the Time of Crisis
By Ellen Maidman-Tanner
In considering what to write about for this month’s newsletter, it was hard not to think about the pandemic, the Black Lives Matter movement, and climate change. The news is dark. Friends keep mentioning how hard it is to see a bright spot out there, anywhere.
So, what is an artist to do? Many of us live to produce, promote, or teach art. We come at it with diverse backgrounds, education and priorities. But, should what we do now reflect these striking times?
In browsing Instagram for people whose work I believe was doing just that, I came upon WCADC member Linda Lowry and her portraits of crying people. I reached out to Linda to discuss what I was attempting to do, and she was kind enough to tell me about the history of her work.
It turns out that Linda, long before these current situations, was fascinated by how babies cry at the moment of birth. These paintings were done a number of years ago. And then Linda sought, with Trump’s presidency and the racist and anti-immigration policies emanating from the White House, to do a series of portraits of ‘non-white’ people from around the world. Linda wanted to counter the fanatical, ‘whites only’ dog whistles through these sensitive portraits of people of color.
And now, she feels her work “has a much deeper meaning and is reflective of what’s going on”. As Linda put it, “The portraits became far more political, and had a broader relevancy.” When I asked Linda if her work, had it not been images of crying babies and non-white people, would have become something else in these tough times, she said, “I think my work would have evolved in a similar direction.”
I am a landscape painter and portraitist. My work has not fundamentally changed, but each day I wonder if it should. I think of Kathe Kolwitz and Kara Walker. I think of so many artists who so brilliantly captured tumultuous emotions and events around them. I, like others, am grappling with the never-ending crises of 2020 and I look at the blank canvas, and I wonder.