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Reflections on our Field Trip

sara.gladwin's picture

Something that really fascinated me on our field trip that I don’t think we have really talked about in class yet are the possibilities of art in relationship to the process of healing and reconciliation.  This intersection seemed especially prevalent the mural arts tour. I was pleasantly surprised by the multiplicity represented in the murals, ranging from nurses, children, offenders/victims, and students. There seemed to be so much freedom involved in the concept of a mural, which can simultaneously represent a particular group of people and still include other people through its visibility. Another aspect I found interesting was the emphasis that the murals were not “owned” by the Mural Arts Group or any one artist. At first I felt strange about this; I felt that it would be frustrating to put so much effort and money into creating something only to have it obscured by the construction of a new building or someone who decides simply to paint over the mural. However, the more I thought about it, the more I recognized the importance of relinquishing “ownership.” In doing so, there is more room for the community itself to take ownership of the murals; there is a sense of something shared. They are there both to serve the community and to draw others into an awareness of that community. For one person or select group to take ownership of a mural would be a disruption to the unity created by the art itself.

I also really enjoyed the art installations in the Eastern Penitentiary. They seemed particularly poignant in their attempt to make sense of a complicated Prison history and while also speaking to representations of Prison in today’s community. This in itself is another kind of healing; the act of reconciling past and present. Each installation highlighted a unique aspect about the Eastern State penitentiary and enabled a different kind of discourse to form around those aspects.

I think for me, understanding that art can be a crucial part of healing because of its possibilities provoked me to assess my own relationship with art. When I use the word “art” I definitely see it as an open term because it can speak to so many forms of expression. However, I realized more fully this weekend the rigidity of my own perception of my relationship to art. I was trained in classical art; where rules definitely exist pertaining to what art “is” and how it is formed. I learned that to be an artist meant that one undoubtedly needed to have all the necessary background experience and techniques. While I love art as a form of expression, I think I am limited in terms of my own artistic possibilities. I do not even view myself as an artist or creator; I have always seen myself more as a “copier,” for lack of a better word. I observe and try as best as possible to replicate in a very precise way. Drawing is one of the only activities that I do not actively attempt to think about my experience as an artist because for me to draw is not to create or even to express; it is a way of immersing myself into something or someone else. In drawing, I forget myself. I rarely deviate from drawing anything more than what I am copying from. When ever I have been in a situation that required me to draw from my head and not an external model I am entirely limited by years of internalizing a strict ideology about what is of artistic value. I think seeing the possibilities of art really inspired me to try and re-assess my own relationship with art. I want to explore these possibilities; the potential for art to be a unifying and healing force, its provocative nature and it’s attempt to re-define conventional ways of perception.