I’d just returned from a month in Kenya and was in no hurry to fall back into set routines here. Sifting through what I’d left undone, I saw there was an art show I’d considered entering. I’m not a big fan of artists competing; as someone who has also worked as an art educator, there’s something distasteful to me about personal expressions set up to vie to be better than each other. Yet we live in a competition-based society, and this is one of the options to share our efforts, and so every year or two I enter some things. I’m old enough to recall sending in slides as entries. Having worked on all sides of such shows (coordinating them at a cooperative art gallery, receiving works and installing exhibits as a museum staff person, and as a participating artist) I’m well aware of the many limitations and impositions built into the process. Over decades I’ve entered or been involved in dozens and take the whole process in context.
So I set about entering this one in early March, and then had a devil of a time formatting my entries as required. I’m not technologically expert but usually not incompetent. Thanks to the patience of the staff at the Bower Center for the Arts, in Bedford, VA, as I muddled through, my entries were eventually received. Two months later I learned a piece had been selected. It was one originally done a few years ago. This year I began re-looking at older works, discarding some, and revising ones that I felt I could improve. The accepted one happened to be one of those, and was a satisfying validation.
The delivery date was a weekend and I happened to accept work on a rare out of town project, four hours from home the week before. Yet while on the project for my good friend, John Aubrey Garland, I soon saw there was more work than I could get done in the week, and the weather wasn’t cooperating as I planned, so on the Friday before delivering art weekend, I had to accept I needed stay in Hampton the full weekend, and might even have to forego getting my art to the show. I wrote the Center for the Arts and they graciously said they could accommodate a delivery the Monday after the weekend. I dropped it off as they allowed.
An email reminder came about the opening event, where awards would be announced. I’d planned to attend. It was implied I was on a list of those granted an award and we were generously invited to dinner after. I was delighted to accept. As it was an hour drive, and began at 5 PM, I quit my workday early, cleaned up, put on decent clothes, and even brought a sport jacket. As I headed out of town, a warning signal flashed on my dash “Brake Failure! Stop Safely”. I was just a few miles from home so I turned around and headed straight to my very trustworthy mechanic. It was late Friday and he was kind enough to give it a brief look-over. Of course the warning had shut off when I reached his shop and refused to return while there. We agreed there seemed no issue with the brakes, but I should be wary en route. I headed back on the road. Five miles in, amid busy end of the week traffic on a busy road, the warning returned, and then all the gages on the entire dash quit. Exasperated, I pulled off onto the shoulder.
I was grateful Walter Williams accepted my call after closing time at his shop. The essence of our conversation came when he said: “If it was me, I wouldn’t risk it.” So I resigned that I had to deal with the car, and given the time frame and distance, knew I wouldnt find a ride in time to make it to the event. I called and emailed the Center leaving messages with my regrets. I called a friend who had a piece in the show, to ask her if she could let the staff know, but learned she was out of town and not attending. I cautiously got my 20 year old XC-70 to his shop, and handed him the keys. I began walking home. I called the center again and happened to get hold of a person, so felt a little better they were informed, and wouldn’t be holding a dinner reservation for me.
I decided to follow the river on my path home and took in the pleasant evening. I’ve been doing a deep dive into our global ecocide, how our civilization is built on viewing life as a “resource” instead of us in relation to all life forms. And how as a consequence, for hundreds of years we’ve been depleting and “overshooting” available resources in every direction. The earth will of course rebalance, but it can’t possibly replenish what we “require” for our modern industrialized lifestyle in human-scale time.
The major disruptions from our human-centered view, wasting precious fresh water supplies, washing away topsoil, acidifying the oceans through synthetic crop fertilizers; we seem to keep clinging to a foolhardy belief technology is the solution —but the root is our ideology promotes an unsustainable way of life. We’re leaching chemicals across the globe, toxic residues of mineral extractions, micro-plastics now within most life forms, radioactive elements carelessly spewed globally, extreme loss of biodiversity, over-fishing, sea-level rising… all throughly-documented the last 25 years. All in addition to climate change events. A brief spell of poor air-quality is but a glimpse. Yet we (especially in more industrialized nations) dither, socially and politically, refusing to relinquish our conveniences. I appreciate the irony of my typing and sharing this on an ipad, requiring many of the issues listed above. It seems time to face the reality: we’re no longer capable of “turning things around”— even if all humans died tomorrow, many of the cycles we’ve spurred into hyperdrive the last 200 years will keep moving on their own momentum. I don’t have answers but preparing for adaptation in the near-term seems the only sensible option.
So admittedly I’ve been in a funk about where my art-making fits into the mix. I mused about this and accepted I’d let the answers reveal themselves. After making dinner I looked up the event, and saw they had a video online of the award presentations. I was surprised (and mildly excited) as my work wasn’t given an award of merit, and then stunned when it received Best of Show. It was all the more humbling, as the juror is an artist and professor (Ray Kass) whose work I’ve admired for many years (and even installed during my museum career). I still don’t know for certain how making paintings assists our global crisis, so am taking this as a nudge to not overthink, and simply be, in the now.