painting class, a show, and politics

So today, 2019-08-28, my painting class is participating in an art show at the facility our classes are held at. A couple weeks ago, we worked on matting the various pieces we were going to put in the show. There were no limits said on what would be okay, and we were mainly asked by the instructor for quantity.

I had an enourmous number of pieces I brought, and kept culling down to smaller and smaller set. I ended up with about 20 pieces matted for the show, which still felt like too many.

After awhile, there were 3 left to choose from. The instructor made some arch comments about not wanting the show to be “political”. One of the remaining pieces is a painting I did based on photographer Pete Souza’s image of the Obamas holding hands, I called “Finger Hug”.

Finger Hug, September, 2018
Finger Hug, September, 2018

Perhaps it’s a famous enough image that everyone knows it’s the Obamas, otherwise it’s an image of two people, people of colour, African Americans to be precise, holding hands.

It just shows their hands.

It just shows two people clearly and deeply in love with each other that they can’t seem to bear a minute without some physical connection.

Of course it’s politial.

Because all art is political.

Art, the process of creating, the choices of what to depict, what to leave out, how to present it, light it: all this is political.

Because we are human. To be human is to be political. To be otherwise is to turn a blind eye to what your privilege allows you to ignore. The possibilities and options, the resources and opportunities, are there for you to refuse, ignore, decide against, and take some other path without any resistance or loss.

Politics is endemic to being human. Choosing to ingore it is being political. Getting to ignore is privilege, and till highly political, and probably oppresive.

I agreed to remove the painting from consideration. It did not sit well with me, but I didn’t raise an argument. That was me, resting in my privilege, with the knowledge that this was entirely a set of choices available to me because of the colour of my skin and the opportunities and resources available to me because of that. First to choose to paint the picture. Second to put it up for consideration. Third to withdraw it because it made someone else uncomfortable, so uncomfortable that they would say they were trying to protect others from discomfort.

This morning, the morning before the show, I find myself quite uncomfortable with knowing my complicitly and collusion.

I do not want to attend the showing. I will, but I will not lend anything to this.

I think I need to stop attending this class, as well; it is difficult to sustain good thoughts about the art I produce if it’s within the strictures and confines of what is acceptable.

I want to use James Baldwin’s statement on the purpose of art:

“The purpose of art is to lay bare the questions that have been hidden by the answers.”

James Baldwin

To in fact lay bare the questions, one must confront the ease and comfort which most people carry through life, especially those with a great deal of privilege, to never be questioned, never be stopped, arrested, diverted, from their banal thoughts on what will dinner be tonight.

I do not wish to participate in that any longer.