There are times in my life that I’ve felt disenfranchised. I’ve felt like I have no voice. I feel like there’s no one listening and I think that’s a lot of the reason I’ve found art in my life to be so important. It’s a way to communicate.
Hi, my name is Carrie and today on Artist Strong, we’re going to talk about how making art creates freedom in our lives and creates freedom for others. Art can be a wonderful way to start a conversation. In the past year I’ve observed that there’s kind of this either/or mentality: if people have a different opinion than myself or others, that we can push each other away and say it’s my way or the highway.
Something I’ve found so important and valuable in the arts is it allows us to communicate our feelings in a way that lets people who don’t necessarily agree with us see our perspective too. This can help people connect to others who don’t understand where they are coming from. That’s powerful.
Today I’m going to highlight four different artists that create as an act of freedom.
The first person in my showcase today that I want to introduce to you is creative spirit Ebi Poweigha.
Ebi Poweigha is a body positive sewing blogger that’s based in Boston. I love that she’s using her interest and love of sewing to also convey a larger message to culture and society. She wants everyone to feel beautiful in their bodies and so she makes clothing that feels fashionable and makes her feel good and shares it with others.
Through her act of making, she creates freedom. Not only does Poweigha feel more free from making this work and empowered in her own skin, but she also is sharing that message with other people. She gives other people the opportunity to reflect on this idea and consider what would make them feel good in their own bodies.
She’s got a wonderful blog; here’s one of her quotes: “Creativity is honoring your instincts.” Isn’t that the truth? That’s part of art as an act of freedom. When we actually honor those instincts, we learn, we grow, we share with others, and we connect. I think all of that is an act of freedom. This is her blog, it’s called “Making the Flame.” Make sure you have all the links to all my showcased artists today below this video. You can learn more about her and the clothing that she makes and her big why about being body positive for everyone.
The second artist that I would like to showcase today is creative spirit, Gwenn Seemel.
I discovered Seemel’s work because I have a genuine love of portrait work. It’s something I’ve done a lot of, on and off over the years, and I’ve always had a love for color. She’s used both of those, I guess you could say, tools very well. I love her work. This is one of her portraits here. You can see her use of color, the way that she makes marks on the surface. I’m very fascinated by her process. After getting to know her, I also realized just how much art is about freedom for Gwenn as well. The message she conveys is: to make art is an act of freedom.
One example of Gwenn’s freedom: she did a series of portraits of animals in the animal world, who have what many would probably describe as atypical partnering situations or relationships. She used these animals to start a larger dialogue about sexuality and being human. What does that mean and what should or shouldn’t it look like? It’s a powerful way to start a dialogue with people using art and it’s a portrait of an animal. A lot of people think of portraits in general as this kind of mundane, everyday experience, and yet here’s this person using portraiture in a very unique way to convey a new idea and get people thinking.
She’s also more recently started to investigate and create portraits of disenfranchised groups of people and started to share their stories. These are acts of freedom, of sharing voice. She’s got a website and a blog; gwennseemel.com. Here you can see one of her recent videos is about free speech. She’s talking about all kinds of issues using art that some people might initially think is this just this pretty thing to put on a wall? Yet there’s so much more happening through her act of creating it and the message she can then share with people. As well as the work itself being the starting point for important dialogues that deal with issues like freedom.
Humans of New York is my third showcase.
I’m sure lots of you already know about Humans of New York. It’s done by: Brandon Stanton. He started going around New York City and asked people about their life. He would take photos of them, share those visuals as well as the words of the people he photographed. He’s got all kinds of different series now, as you can see here. There’s not a more expressive way to have a dialogue about freedom, or make art as an act of freedom, in my book than what Stanton has done with HONY.
Here is this man exploring different people from different walks of life, as well as going around the world, traveling, learning from other people, and sharing it with all of us. That’s a true act of rebellion in some ways, to decide, “I’m going to go ask these stories myself. I’m going to see what people have to say. I’m going to choose to share those stories.” That seems like a pretty amazing act of freedom to me.
The last person I want to showcase is Candy Chang and the work I first is discovered of hers is something called, “Before I Die.”
She fascinates me because she does something that I feel like I just don’t understand or know how to do. She makes art that engages the viewer to actively participate in it. Instead of viewers being someone who just observes the artwork, they are part of the artwork.
In Before I Die, you can see that she made this the first one in New Orleans. She stenciled out, “Before I die I want to…” and left a space for people to give answers. Then she stenciled that onto a large wall in New Orleans and left a piece of chalk as you’re about to see. Here you have it; people being part of an act of freedom. People sharing their unique voice, their unique experiences. I mean, what a way to connect with each other and show how much we are all alike and build that sense of community that a lot of us are feeling is lost.
Her most recent work really fascinates me, it’s called, “The Atlas of Tomorrow.” She did it as part of the Philadelphia mural program. Here is the work itself. You can see there’s a dial in the middle that kind of looks like a compass. Then there’s these numbers and these words printed on the left and right of it, as well as this larger image that she’s created. She’s actually referencing the I Ching here, which is kind of a, it’s a … I’m not really an expert in this but it’s a tool for counsel and reflection.
What you do is you spin this dial and you find out what your numbers are. Then you go look at them and reflect and see if that impacts your life or can help you make a decision in your life. The first thing you do is consider a situation in your life where you could use direction. Don’t think yes or no, just kind of ask for advice. Spin the dial and then read that story and see how it applies to you.
What a wonderful way to, again, engage people, make people stop, look around and reflect. That’s an act of freedom to me too: to get people thinking, to get people appreciating the art in the world around them, and reflecting on their own lives. Powerful!
A lot of people feel like there’s a pressure to make your art say something. While some of the people that I’ve showcased today do use art as a way to communicate social message, I believe the act of making art is an act of freedom in itself.
When we take time for our art it sends a message to everyone around us in our community, in our immediate family, and our peer group. It says that making time to make art and express myself through making art is important. That is life-changing for everyone. That is how we change systems. The act of making by itself can be an act of freedom and opportunity for social action.
Don’t feel like you have to change the message or the kind of art you make to be a social message for social change, because the act of making by itself may be the social message.
One way I see this is that when we develop our personal style and voice in our art, even if our family doesn’t get it, we continue to share that work. Those people then learn more about you and your perspective. Even if they fully don’t get or understand your art.
Another way art is an act of freedom is that it’s a way to meditate. It gives you mental space and clarity. Meditation has … there’s so much evidence, research-based evidence, now that shows that meditation is really important and useful for having mental health. It can help us cope with difficult times in our lives and help us better understand ourselves.
Making art is an act of meditation. Meditation doesn’t have to be sitting and saying ohmm in a corner with your legs crossed. It depends on what works for you, right? For me, making art gives me mental space to think, to reflect on things going on in my life as well as reflect on my art. That is an act of freedom for me. I feel lighter. I feel happier. I have more emotional space to give others because I take that time to actively meditate with my art.
There’s a shift that’s happened on social media where I feel like we are focusing on all of the bad going on. While I do think it’s important to bring voice to issues, I think there’s also a choice that we can make to be positive and use our art as an act of rebellion. Use our art as a means to share that communication and try to connect with others, rather than pointing fingers and trying to find blame. Why don’t we try to make change by being the change that we want in the world?
Imagine if people made an artwork for after every injustice they witnessed. How powerful would it be to see the culmination of all those artworks together? How powerful would it be just to see one of your artworks that you make in response to an injustice and know that moves someone else to think about the world in a different way? Perhaps it helps them treat people a little bit differently…
Imagine encouraging your kids to make art before and after school, or even during school when they have free time? Even if an education system cuts arts funding, what message does that send to your family? It’s an act of rebellion in itself to say I don’t agree with the system. I know this is valuable and important and I’m gonna communicate that to you. That’s an act of freedom. I’d love to know what else can you imagine?
Be Creatively Courageous: I ask you in the comments below to tell me how making art brings you voice or feels like an act of freedom for you. Let’s compile a list of how it makes us all feel. It would be this wonderful resource of justification for people to see the many reasons that art is valuable and important to be making.
Thank you guys for watching as always. If you find today’s video especially helpful, please consider sharing it with people in your community. I value your time. Thanks for watching and being part of Artist Strong see you guys next week.