Where Art and Words Collide

ChalkWalk3WEB“As you grow up you realize that being honest and straightforward doesn’t mean you blurt out everything that comes into your mind,” explains blogger Tanvi Rastogi. “Either you learn to be diplomatic or, if that route is too political for you, then learn to keep quiet! If you choose neither then you will only create trouble for yourself.”

As a speaker and passionate motivator, I encourage others to dig deep, uncover their gifts, and empower them with skills and tools to pursue their goals. This is an art form. But I didn’t consider myself an artist.  My accountant/wire sculptor/painter fiancé, Pat, is an artist.

A group of artists-friends meet once a week to inspire and hold one another accountable as they pursue individual forms of artistic expression. They taught me how to step into my inner-artist.

 When I was five, I traced a picture of an elephant driving a little car on glass with a black magic marker. I ignored the elephants-are-grey rule and coated the elephant’s skin and his car with a rainbow of paint. No one said “Color between the lines” until I entered kindergarten. I learned that certain things had to be specific colors.

I vividly remember black & white funeral images of Martin Luther King, Jr. and John F. Kennedy on our black & white television and pages of Life magazine. I remember Walter Cronkite’s nightly reports about riots, death, and destruction in Birmingham. Kent State. Saigon. I grew up during the 1960s – political correctness did not exist and adults were unable to talk about the news without getting angry.

The Latin Mass was translated into the language of its congregants in 1969. We rehearsed our Mass of the Roman Rite responses in English during religion class at our Catholic school. Boys who wore crew cuts in first grade had long hair when they entered high school; like cast members in the musical, Jesus Christ, Superstar. Adults were unable to talk about the changes in the Church and boys with long hair without getting angry.

Musicians used instruments to shed light on social inequity and injustice. Peter, Paul, and Mary vowed to sing out danger and “sing out love between my brothers and my sisters all over this land.” The music invited inclusivity and healing at a time of social upheaval.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibited discrimination. Nonviolent demonstrations attempted to restore peace. Young men were drafted into military service. Students angrily protested that if they were old enough to fight in Viet Nam, they were old enough to vote. The 26th Amendment gave 18-year-olds the right to vote.

Paul said to the Corinthians, “Now you are the Body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it” (1 Corinthians 12:27). Adults were unable to talk about politics or religion or change without getting angry.

As I grew up, I tried to learn how to color between the lines. Say the right things. Do the right things.

The lines between social conversations, confrontation, and social justice were blurry.

So, I learned to be quiet. Sort of.

I didn’t want to make adults angry, but I couldn’t ignore the fact that there were people around me in pain. I had to do something.

I became a teacher and invited students into conversations about current events. We explored ways we could respond to social concerns that aligned with our core values.

As a youth minister, I was part of an adult team who believed our youth were members of the Body of Christ. Today. We provided young people with leadership training and opportunities to exercise leadership skills in the community. We incorporated the creative arts and social issues into worship celebrations. We accompanied youth on service trips within and outside of our country.

I continue to facilitate courageous conversations about multicultural inclusion and diversity. I provide goal-setting strategy workshops and resources for at-risk youth and families as a volunteer.

Sometimes adults are unable to talk about diversity issues without getting angry. The same fire that melts butter hardens steel. I learned how to open discussions by asking questions. That is my job as an advocate of social change. I invite others to gather, ask questions, and allow the dialogue to unfold.

I learned a different way to speak my truth this year through art.

Doug, a member of our arts group, invited us participate in a collaborative project. We cut a photograph of Shepard Fairey’s “Hope” poster into six equal pieces. We independently selected materials to recreate our piece of the Obama puzzle on individual 24″ x 24″ canvases.

Aristotle once said, “The aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance.” The purpose of our collaborative project was not to impose political beliefs on others. We simply wanted to invite discussion.

I was worried because I didn’t know how to paint between the lines.

Like the pen I use for writing, all things have purpose and meaning. The innate purpose and meaning of things change when they are pieced together with other objects.

OBAMA6WEBI looked for artistic inspiration in Obama’s 2oo8 inaugural address – and subsequent speeches after he was sworn into office. Many adults are unable to talk about Obama without getting angry. I sliced hope-filled and angry words by him and about him from magazines and newspaper clippings and glued them to my canvas. They formed the foundation of my art: a collage.

We had no idea what the final product looked like until we fit the individual pieces into a collective whole. Doug is a brilliant pointillist. Lissa is an original word artist who overlaps poetry and color. Laura incorporates rich, meaningful symbols into artistic expression. Beth cleverly whispered words of our country’s forefathers into Obama’s ear. Pat experimented with textures and vibrant hues.

I found a medium where art and words peacefully coexist.

Adults may be unable to talk about important social issues without getting angry.

But they have a voice.

And so do I.

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