Saturday, December 31, 2016

Elections, Images and History

The last few months have been home to some stunning events in this country. The results of the presidential election were unexpected and have created a lot of concern and anxiety. There seems to be some possibility a foreign country has tried to unduly influence the election. The Dakota Pipeline protest has pitted peaceful water-protectors against public law enforcement that have decided to protect a large company that does not have permission to dig the land they are on. Sometimes it seems like the world is going, as they used to say, "to Hell in a hand basket."  As I sit in my studio painting, I am aware of a world around me crumbling. I am aware of my privilege to be able to sit in my studio and paint while these events unfold.

Part of the craziness that people feel is the way in which words and symbols are now twisted and used to hurt people instead of to help them. Politicians and media take images and words that used to be positive and sow doubt about their meaning, about their value.  As I research the early Modernist movement in art, I can't help but think about similarities. After all, it was the greedy and political actions of the upper-class in the late 1800's that eventually led to the Great Depression - much like our recent Great Recession.  The early- to mid-1800's, with the rise of the Industrial Age and the middle-class, and the subsequent rise to wealth and power for a few families, were very tumultuous times. The Modernist movement in art, before there was mass media or an internet, was one manner in which the days' problems could be framed and discussed. From its inception, the Modernist movement was a struggle against institutionalized parameters of success which used idiomatic symbols to express a conceited sense of the common. Modernism was seeking something more. The true Modernist sought authenticity through presenting a personal individual view of the world, as opposed to the institutionally accepted view of the world.

We are trying to do the same these days, but those who dictate images and words to the masses seem to have upped their game and gotten ahead of us. It won't be easy to reclaim a societal perspective that is based on the personal experience of millions - after all, how do you do that?  There are certainly lessons to be learned from Trump, Clinton and Sanders and how they galvanized large segments of our population. The fight is there -- a fight to make a country that works for all of its citizens, not just a few.

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