Monday, September 29, 2008

When Art and Values Clash

Searching for Time, Infrared photograph, (c)2008 Jeane Vogel
24x30, $325 matted

It was bound to happen. I meet a lot of people at art fairs and we basically have one thing in common: we both like my art! Or I like my art and they are being polite. Doesn't matter. We're just strangers to each other, finding something in common.

Sometimes a reaction to my work will be strong and a patron will share some very personal information, as if I were a girlfriend or a confidant. Like the woman who's husband was deployed to Iraq and they were both on my website and liked the same piece. She found me and bought it. It made them feel closer, and safer. Wow! 

Or the little girl who almost sobbed as she clutched one of my images, it so reminded her of her beloved home, now 1000 miles away. (Her mom got it for her.)

When a piece of art is the centerpiece of the conversation, people can feel close quickly.
It's a nice feeling. A personal connection, a sharing of intent,  a common purpose.

Then suddenly, I'm pulled up short. 

A collector of mine, someone who has purchased many large pieces for herself, as gifts, even commissioned a special work -- sent me some rather disturbing political materials recently.
Really? You believe that?, I thought. I guess she thought I did too.

Most artists I know are politically liberal. Some more, some less. I'm not ashamed to say I fit into the "more" camp. I try not to to talk politics at an art fair or exhibit, but it's burned into my DNA. If someone makes a comment, I'll engage them - in the most polite, civil way I know of if we disagree; enthusiastically if we're of the same mind.

But what does it mean if someone, a collector, is so drawn to my work but we're poles apart on major issues that affect our lives?

It truly jarred me at first. Oh no, I thought, I really like you! You have my work in your home! How could you think THAT!

Then the flash of the moment passed.  We had found something in common. The art. It's not much, but it's a start. Part of my values, through my work, were finding a kindred voice. In this contentious climate, where disagreement too often means that the opponent will be demonized, attacked unfairly and lied about, I'll take what common ground I can find.

Maybe it's another example of how art can heal the world.

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