This I Believe

Joe - Maplewood, New Jersey
Entered on June 29, 2006
Age Group: 50 - 65
Themes: creativity

A Unique Power of Expression

I have considered myself an artist since the age of 12. I base this on the fact that painting is the one activity that has consistently been most important to me since then. As a kid I was purely figurative and amazed by the draughtsmanship of illustrators like Norman Rockwell or animators like Walt Disney. But when I was initially exposed to abstract art I hated it because in my immaturity I failed to grasp its sublime articulation of ideas and emotions along with its generous latitude of interpretation. Then I was exposed to a retrospective of Mark Rothko’s paintings in the 1970s at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis. These paintings, with their signature billowing ‘clouds’ of vibrant color, began to shift my view. I eventually started making abstract paintings myself and my commitment to abstract art has continued to deepen ever since.

As my knowledge and interest in art have expanded I’ve come to believe in its unique power of expression for providing meaning to human existence that is not possible in any other way. This is especially important in a contemporary world dominated by news of terrorism, wars and natural disasters. Yet even in addressing societal and personal feelings about such catastrophes art, particularly as abstraction, is able to express so much by saying so little.

Two fairly recent commemoratives come to mind as examples. The first is Maya Lin’s Vietnam War Memorial in Washington DC. It has been denounced as negative and disrespectful which is as legitimate as any other interpretation. Yet a more encompassing elucidation is that it offers a deeply solemn testimonial for not only the dead but also for the social tragedy of that war. At the same time it is a beautiful multilayered sculpture that is at once abstract, conceptual and socially engaging. We interact with it by touching the names carved into its stunning black polished granite and mournfully see our own grief reflected back suggesting perhaps, a view of how the war dead see us.

A more recent example is the ‘towers of light’ sculpture from 2002 in New York City where a collection of search lights was aimed at the sky to virtually recreate the twin towers. This brilliantly simple, elegant and deeply poignant work of art embodied the essence of those lost buildings. It also conveyed a succinct and transcendent statement about the destruction of the World Trade Center which was immediately apparent to everyone that saw it. Its genius was to express beyond words or photographs the tremendous sense of loss the tragedy engendered.

When I paint I feel heroic because I am participating in that same exceptional means of expression that artists throughout history have engaged in. My aspiration for my paintings is that they share in the distinctive sensibility that all great art, whether embodied in public memorials or created and accessed in other venues, makes possible.