Abraham Lincoln, Andrew Zuckerman, Art Effects, Art exhibits, Art Ltd., Captain Joseph Stewart, Civil War, Creation, Elephants, Emancipation Proclamation, Greater Kudu, Henry G. Blasdel, Human Attitudes Towards Humans, Humanity and Nature, James Nye, Kate Clark, Late Harvest, Lions, Nevada Museum of Art, Nevada Sesquicentennial, Nevada Statehood, Slavery, Taxidermy, Timothy O’Sullivan, Western Attitudes Toward Nature, Word Effects, Words and Pictures
I recently experienced a series of events throughout one weekend. Events which created such powerful responses in me that it has taken me quite some time to process just the surface emotions.
The last piece of the weekend was the catalyzing force that gave my emotions a few words. It came in the form of a film: Words and Pictures.
In the film, there is an intense debate between Art and English teachers, which is then expanded to include their respective honors students: Which is more powerful…words or pictures? As the film progresses, we watch the effects of both…on both populations…teachers and students. I found myself asking:
Which was more powerful: the creation or the usage of the creation?
As I explored the question within myself, I felt relief to discover some words for my reactions to two other events earlier in the weekend: two exhibits at the Nevada Museum of Art.
For one exhibit, I stood in line, outside, in windy 41°F, for 1.5 hours…because I wanted to see the Emancipation Proclamation.
Included in the exhibit, impacted by the Emancipation Proclamation, were the simultaneously written Nevada state constitutional documents declaring not only that Nevada was the 36th state, but
That there shall be in this stateneither slavery nor involuntary servitude, otherwise than in the punishment for crimes, whereof the party shall have been duly convicted.
Standing in front of these documents, I felt the presence of those who created them…the hearts behind the intent and the convictions of those who physically formed the words with their hands. I also felt the presence of those who came into contact with these documents over the last 150 years, and those whose lives were so affected by these words. These documents have seen things…have changed things…have made a dramatic impact on many people.
Paper and ink.
Forming lasting words.
Words powerful enough to still evoke response in people…a response resulting in a line to see these documents…for all three days the document was on display. Tickets sold out by noon most days. Even for members.
And yet, despite such powerful words written some 150 years ago, some people still respond with anger. Others, blatant dismissal. For, despite such words, slavery and involuntary servitude is still rampant in this country…which horrifies me…especially in terms of the sex trade and the number of household servants who are willingly hired and illegally imported here for those purposes. Don’t even get me started on educational loans and minimum wage issues.
So, I wondered.
Are words powerful enough?
Are these words powerful enough?
Then I reflect on the exhibit I visited the day before…after discovering that the Emancipation Proclamation exhibit had sold out. The exhibit is called “Late Harvest.” “Historically significant wildlife paintings” are displayed beside contemporary taxidermically centered pieces challenging the viewer’s world view by asking:
Are animals the servants/slaves of humanity or are we the lesser species…with much to learn from the natural world?
Few words were written. None spoken. One artist declined description altogether, simply letting his life-sized animal portraits speak for themselves.
Even without yet experiencing the second exhibit and the film, the absence of words struck me as significant. I actually appreciated this for two reasons: it forced me to interact with the docents, leading to rather interesting conversations, and it allowed me to simply be in my heart space…feeling everything that came up as I viewed these creative expressions.
And lots came up. Particularly with the taxidermy pieces. Because I grew up in Eastern Africa, many of the pieces included animals with which my child-self has first-hand experience. I remember, vividly, walking within 10 feet of a mama elephant and her two-day old baby…only to look the other direction and see two lions lazily sunning themselves…again, mere feet from my unprotected self. I felt simultaneously honored, thrilled, excited, alert, vulnerable, alive.
I also remember clearly the awe and almost worship I felt when I first saw the mature Greater Kudu bull. Graceful. Elegant. Gentle. Powerful. Regal. I remember feeling humbled in his presence…like a child being corrected and inspired simply by being the presence of a wise, older man. And then to see this specific piece (pictured above) by Kate Clark…my heart felt extreme and opposing emotions. Horror. Shock. Heartbreak. Tenderness. Appreciation. Gratitude. Comfort. Humility. Fury. Indignation.
Both exhibits shook me. Both exhibits challenged me. Both exhibits stirred emotion in extreme ways.
So. Which was more effective? Words or pictures?
What was effective was the art in both.
The heArt in both.
Without heArt, both would simply be noise. As would the film. The conviction, commitment, and passion so clearly displayed in both words and images, regardless of medium, inspired me. Challenged me. Shocked me. Horrified me. Revealed me…to myself. Inviting me to not only to see more clearly and accept the darker side of life, but to also live more deeply and passionately…asking myself
What are you creating in your heArt?
Make who you are.
And so I am.
For more information on the exhibit “Late Harvest” please read the feature in the November/December 2014 issue of Art Ltd. and the Nevada Museum of Art website. Images are only available in print form.