MARCH 20, 2020 | BY MARK MITCHELL
Make a statement
These are crazy times. And in light of our current health crisis, I must say I’ve been a bit hard-pressed to compose a blog post this week as Creative Pinellas grantee that would be relevant and appropriate to the moment. Because in the midst of a worldwide viral pandemic, 24-hour news alerts and widespread panic and confusion, who needs to read about art?
Well, I do, for one, and you probably do, too. Because art has the power to enlighten—illuminating the public conversation with insights, emotions and points of view in different ways than other methods of communication. It can touch us on a visceral level, and connect with parts of our minds that allow us to observe and experience things more intuitively. In times of crisis, art has the ability to calm, nurture, and heal our inner selves, even when our public life may feel a bit too frantic.
In times like these, I believe it to be an artist’s responsibility to hold a mirror to the world, and reveal a new perspective on current events and issues. Art that conveys ideas. Art that makes a statement. And one of the essential tools at an artist‘s disposal is the Artist Statement. Because in addition to the artwork itself, we artists have an opportunity to add insights and shed light on our approach, process and goals for our creations. Crafting a good one is yet another great way to connect with an audience, and communicate what it is that we and our art are all about. It also becomes especially useful in applications for art grants and shows, gallery exhibitions, and for providing context to our work online.
So, at this point, I’ll share my own Artist Statement—one that has guided, informed and represented my body of work reliably over the past ten years.
In a world where we are bombarded every day by pictures through mass media, what makes any single image resonate with the viewer? What makes it meaningful? What makes it memorable?
The art that has always appealed to me has never been just a pretty picture. It’s had some extra intangible quality that gave me pause to reflect. Some unique perspective, sense of mystery, an ironic twist or surprising technique that made me stop, pay close attention, and actually think.
I can remember the first time I saw James Rosenquist’s House Of Fire at The Met in NYC. Amazed by the bold colorful advertising-style imagery on such a grand scale, it was instantly appealing to me. I didn’t understand its oddly juxtaposed imagery immediately, but it was powerful nonetheless—perhaps even more so than the commercial billboards that would compete for my attention as I gazed out the car window on family road trips. Later I discovered Rosenquist was a former billboard painter, and had decided to subvert those same images to an unsettling, mysterious effect—rather than use them to sell us something we may not need.
Similarly, other modern and contemporary artists have revealed their own unique vision. Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup Cans and Magritte’s The Treachery Of Images forced us to reconsider exactly what art is, or can be. Dali’s The Persistence of Memory challenged our perception of space and time. Picasso’s Guernica shed light on the effects of a violent revolution, while presenting it in a way never seen before. And Banksy has reinvented street art as a vehicle for high-concept sociopolitical protest.
This kind of eye-opening art can be especially meaningful today, when it’s becoming increasingly difficult to take anything at face value. We are living in a land of artifice. Spin is the order of the day, as we find ourselves surrounded by a circus of Hollywood celebrities, marketers, politicians, pop stars and special interest groups—all out to convince us that their story is the one to believe. But when we pull back the curtain, we often find that what we see, is not nearly what we get.
At its core, my work is an attempt at a wake-up call, by exposing things that may otherwise be hidden from view. Each piece is intended to catch the viewer off guard, invite them in for further exploration, and challenge them to make connections, find meaning, and ultimately see differently some aspect of the world in which we live.
I wish you all safety and the best of health at this difficult time. We can get through this!
More details, news and updates on the way. I invite you to follow my progress on this blog, and at the links below.
Produced with the support of Creative Pinellas, Visit St. Petersburg/Clearwater and the Pinellas County Board of County Commissioners