By Sophie Walker –
Standing in the vast lobby of The Dairy Art Center, I overheard a disparaging remark about one of the exhibits. The “art critic” was there with a friend of mine. Not one to be shy, I introduced myself and suggested they might like to join a docent-led tour in 10 minutes to get a feel for the art.
“Sorry, we’re just going into the BOE to see a film.”
I didn’t want to leave it at that: “You’re not so crazy about these, are you?” I asked, gesturing towards nine large pieces, each containing hundreds of pastel squares.
“I wasn’t either when they were first hung, but I’ve learned what’s behind and being said within these paintings.”
“How so?” asks my friend.
“Well, they’re making some very interesting statements about our relationship with global financial institutions.” “Really?”
“Yes, really, but aren’t you’re going to be late for the film?”
“It’s alright, we’ve got a few minutes.”
“Okay, so here’s a guy,” I say, “Chad Erpelding, a university professor who has spent years transforming data into these complex, even disorienting bodies of work.”
“In this case because they reveal and conceal information. Like Dark Pools – the Pools that affect our entire financial system.”
“Never heard of them.”
“That’s the beauty of art – if you let go of thinking it should always be lovely or familiar or even make sense, it can be an education.”
“You’re good at this, Sophie,” my friend said.
“By the way… this professor may not even consider himself an artist, but more a curious statistician, yet he puts the information on canvases so he can reach beyond his classrooms. You can call it art or whatever you want, but he’s given us a gift.”
I stopped to catch my breath and told them to come back sometime to take a tour.
As they dashed off to the movie I began thinking about all the art I’ve casually passed by over the years because I didn’t like it. I now realize, of course, every exhibit, every piece of art, every artist, has a “back story” and often a huge one: think of the 300 mask exhibit-CaraCara, each of them hand-made with a history of deceit, protection, playfulness, political or religious statements, etc.
Oh, but then the annual IMAGINE! show – an exhibit beautifully curated. A display of creativity by individuals very often with massive disabilities. The success of the show was evidenced by the joy of the artists seeing their very own work hung in a real gallery, and the number of pieces sold each year.
It is these exhibits that have awakened yet another flawed part of me, and I begin thinking of the times I’ve looked away from a person with an impairment in a wheelchair, or anywhere, but an individual who could be the creator of great art… or not. It doesn’t matter, I just regret all the stories I’ve missed by turning my head So my take away?: Don’t LOOK Away. Art can teach all of us by opening our minds and sometimes even our hearts.
Weeks after the IMAGINE! exhibit,
I felt I needed a tangible reminder that beauty is everywhere and can come from unexpected places and experiences. Above is a photo of me with Rebecca Mah and the painting I purchased from her. A thrill for both of us, I think.