Sunday, February 10, 2008

Sunday homage - Robert Shetterly

Robert Shetterly is a painter. He is working on a series of portraits called Americans Who Tell the Truth. Simply put, they are stunning. To each portrait he adds a quote from the subject. And often, "them's fightin' words."

Some of his subjects I am well acquainted with - Abraham Lincoln, Mark Twain, Sojourner Truth, Jane Addams, Walt Whitman, John Muir, Rachel Carson, Molly Ivins.

Others I have heard of but do not know much about, leading me to learn and grow - Rachel Corrie, Tilly Woodward, Grace Lee Boggs, Denise Giardina.

And still others are my heroes, people who do and say the things that I am not able, who are articulate and brave and are doing things that make a difference - Van Jones, Terry Tempest Williams, Bill McKibben, Amy Goodman.

"The opposite for courage is not cowardice, it is conformity.
Even a dead fish can go with the flow.”

Jim Hightower

"The international media and our government
are not going to tell us that we are effective,
important, justified in our work, courageous, intelligent, valuable. We have to do that for each other, and one way we can do that is by continuing our work, visibly.
People without privilege will be doing this work
no matter what, because they are working
for their lives. We can work with them, and they know
that we work with them, or we can leave them to do
this work themselves and curse us for our complicity in killing them."
Rachel Corrie

"Dr. King didn't get famous giving a speech that said,"I have a complaint."
It's time for us to start dreaming again and invite the country to dream with us.
We don't have any "throw away" species, nations, or children. We must birth a global green economy strong enough to lift people out of poverty."
Van Jones
"No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”
Eleanor Roosevelt
Robert Shetterly is also a writer who can pierce my heart and make me think in ways I never have before. He fearlessly speaks truth to power, encouraging us to do what is right, n
ot necessarily what is easy. The following is from the journal on his website:
"When Arthur Miller said, “I think … the job of the artist is to remind people of what they have chosen to forget,” he was not suggesting that people have forgotten how to be willing cogs in the economic machine, he was saying that those willing cogs have forgotten their essential humanity as they compromised their lives away, in fact, become participants in a great exploitation of humanity for the benefit of business.

There is no true art without truth. So, the first obligation of the artist is honesty, witnessing for the truth. Witnessing for the truth is subversive because it must strip away the masks of hypocrisy. We also all know that when we have serious problems, we can’t fix them if we don’t face the truth about what they are. If the problem is global warming, installing heavy duty windshield wipers to wipe away the heavy duty rain won’t help because the
problem is in the brakes, there are no brakes on the system which is driving the problem.

It’s the obligation of the artist to air out our minds & hearts, to throw open the windows & doors of a self-satisfied society whose economic engine runs on exploitation and collateral damage, to show us what’s gnawing in the walls, swaying the roof, and grinding away under the floorboards. I know, some of you are thinking, but what about Matisse, don’t we all need Matisse? Of course we do, but not when blood is dripping from the ceiling onto his old easy chair. Not when the house is on fire.

As artists we must reject the creative economy in favor of the sustainable and creative society. We embrace the creative society because it makes its allegiance with a just economy and a humane community.

The obligation of the artist in times like these is to explore, to report, to reject cant, to spit out the artificial sweeteners in ourcommercial, suicidal brew. We honor explorers because they are courageous. William Sloane Coffin said there are no other virtues without courage. So we honor the artists who have the courage to tell us the truth. For this is what Keats meant about truth and beauty, they can not be separated. And if compassion and justice are virtues ( and beautiful), they will not exist if there is not courage to demand them. Without that courage we will not survive --- either individually of collectively...

Of course, we should teach composition by studying Caravaggio, and teach color by copying Matisse. But we should also teach Goya’s Disasters of War, how composition and chiaroscuro make the statement emphatic, and how the music of his lines elevates depiction of the most depraved of behavior to the level of art and moral denunciation, how having the courage to contemplate the most repugnant of human activity allows us to know ourselves at the deepest level. Sometimes if artists don’t bear witness, no one does."

So here's to Robert Shetterly. By doing what he is passionate about and embracing the artist in others, he helps me to be a better artist and, fingers crossed, a better person. I hope that you, too, will be inspired by his work, and the work of his subjects. Happy Sunday.

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