Art is Art and Its Power

I’d planned to review Now is Not the Time to Panic by Kevin Wilson anyway, but after a conversation with a friend last week – or rather a comment by a friend last week – it confirmed my choice for this month’s book review.

My friend and I were walking on our local greenway, her first time on it, when we came upon Forest. Her off-the-cuff, disparaging remark surprised me. “I really don’t like those things. I think they’re kinda crazy.” I laughed a little and just shrugged. When she noticed my reaction she said, ‘Well, that’s just me.” I chuckled again to lighten the mood and said, “Art is art. Not everybody likes the same thing.”

Forest is one of around 30 dogs and cats as part of our Lancaster County Council of the Arts Paws on Parade public art installation. As the website describes it, ‘… a public art outreach project that brings sculpture into communities throughout the county. They’re designed and painted by local artists, placed in strategic outdoor locations where many who would not normally encounter art in their daily lives will see and engage with these whimsical sculptures.’

I’ve taken my local Grands to see several of them, it’s like a treasure hunt. They love them, know them by name and ask to have their pictures taken with them. I mean, who wouldn’t love a cat named Frida Katlo? Neither of these cats is Frida. Scholar hangs out in front of the library; Trace greets walkers to the greenway.

Last week on our walk I wanted to ask my friend why she had such a strong dislike of the sculptures, but I worried my curiosity would come across as judgmental in that moment.

Art is art. It affects us personally and it affects the collective soul of a community. I’m in awe of how the power of art can provoke us, comfort us, make us laugh, bring a community together or tear one apart.

From the inside jacket flap of Now is Not the Time to Panic~

Sixteen-year-old Frankie Budge—aspiring writer, indifferent student, offbeat loner—is determined to make it through yet another summer in Coalfield, Tennessee, when she meets Zeke, a talented artist who just moved into his grandmother’s house and who is as awkward as Frankie is. Romantic and creative sparks begin to fly, and when the two jointly make an unsigned poster, shot through with an enigmatic phrase, it becomes unforgettable to anyone who sees it.

The book is listed as YA because the protagonists are teens, but the messages and themes resonate with adults too. Even as a collaborative effort, both Frankie and Zeke create the poster for their own reasons; but neither has a clue how residents of Coalfield will respond to it. They make it on a whim, a lark. It’s a fun, secretive project to fill the boring days of a hot Tennessee summer. As they continue making copies of the poster and papering the town with them, the image and phrase become less their creation. The more they try to reclaim ownership, (while remaining anonymous), their individual reasons for creating it in the first place become clearer, putting them at odds with each other; and the more they reproduce their work of art, the more they lose creative control of it.

That loss of control is the theme that struck me most about the book—how art, once it’s made public, is interpreted by the public in ways the artist may never have imagined. I wondered how Michelangelo would have reacted knowing Daniele da Volterra was commissioned to paint fig leaves and loincloths on some of his nudes in the Sistine Chapel’s Last Judgment. I thought of the frustration and anger authors feel as their books are targeted for banning.

Once Frankie and Zeke’s poster is out in the wild, they can’t prevent or take back anything that happens because of it. And plenty does. Twenty years later questions about the events of that summer hang over Coalfield, and how the poster still affects the two that created it.

Jonathan Haupt, Director of the Conroy Center in Beaufort, South Carolina also wrote a review of Now is Not the Time to Panic with a different slant than mine for Charleston’s Post and Courier. His review led me to read the book.

How does art affect you?

It’s a lovely foggy day here in the Carolinas. A good day to read a book or create some art!

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4 Responses to Art is Art and Its Power

  1. quinonesev1 says:

    Art helps me to escape. I remember a time when I was fired from a job, and while I was too embarrassed to call my husband and tell him, I went to a local museum to envelop myself, if only for a little while, until I could collect myself and face the truth.

  2. Bob Kent says:

    I really like this Kim. Art is an expression of ourselves. While I don’t want to live vicariously through other people art I find a real joy and peacefulness in looking at and reading what others have done. And trying to interpret through their view, not mind. Thanks.

    • Thank you, Bob. I always look forward to your comments, whether here or on FB. You always give me something to think about! I guess I’ve never thought about ekphrastic poetry as living vicariously through the artist’s eye, but I suppose in some cases it is. In a piece I just finished for an exhibit, I ‘took on’ the life of a domestic violence victim. Thankfully I’ve never been in that situation, but that’s what the poem called for. It was a tough poem to write – maintaining a balance between getting the emotion there without overdoing it. But I definitely had to mentally put myself there. Either next week or the following week I’m posting about the exhibit – wish you lived in SC! – and will touch on your comment 🙂 Thank you!

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