(As printed in the Fairbanks Newminer, Community Perspective,September 28, 2020) A few months ago, a global debate erupted over a seemingly innocent survey posed to a thousand Singaporeans. Respondents were asked to rank the most essential jobs to “keep Singapore going” during the pandemic. Fittingly, jobs deemed most essential were those in health care, janitorial services and certain retailers. Controversy sparked over what respondents named the least essential job: artists. Since October is National Arts and Humanities Month in the United States, it’s a good time to reflect on the artist’s role during a crisis. Let’s first be clear about one thing: We cannot underestimate the necessity of beauty in a functioning society. And given that artists are the custodians of beauty, we therefore cannot diminish their importance. T.S. Eliot once wrote, “humankind cannot bear very much reality.” When the reality of 2020 upended the world, and humanity careened from crisis to crisis, where did we turn? Many of us reached for the novels on our shelves and the movies on our watchlists. We streamed music, performances and dance classes. Exiled from normalcy, we escaped into art because we knew the beauty found there could quiet the chaos. British painter G.F. Watts understood the intrepid hope art offers the world. Shortly before Christmas 1885, Watts wrote to a friend saying, “I see nothing but uncertainty, contention, conflict, (and) beliefs unsettled.” At this point in history, England had been dealt a devastating blow by the Long Depression, the pessimistic philosophies of Friedrich Nietzsche had taken hold of British consciousness, and Watts had just suffered the death of his granddaughter. His reaction? Paint hope. Honestly. In 1886, “Hope” debuted at the Grosvenor Gallery. Like most artists, Watts depicts the virtue as a young woman, but instead of holding her usual emblem of a bouquet of flowers or an anchor, she clutches a lyre with a single playable string. Blindfolded and sitting atop a desolate globe, she bends her ear to hear the music. For Watts, hope isn’t a synonym for wishful thinking or false optimism. Rather hope, the virtue composed of courage and perseverance, is the antidote for a world falling apart. The beauty found in good art doesn’t lecture the audience, glorify the artist, or peddle empty promises. Instead, good art has the power to make a person feel known, a little less isolated. In the face of infection and injustice, good art comforts the afflicted and afflicts the comfortable. Shortly after its debut, reproductions of Watts’ portrait began to appear around London. It’s said that on at least two occasions, a glimpse of “Hope” convinced those on the brink of suicide to continue living, and decades later it inspired Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Shattered Dreams” sermon. Therefore, to all artists, I say: Don’t stop. You won’t discover a coronavirus vaccine or pass relief funding bills into law. That’s not the hope you give. But your contribution to this current crisis is nonetheless essential. You have the ability to make visible the hidden goodness of this life. Don’t squander that. Keep going, keep creating, keep infusing our communities with the kind of beauty that disrupts the noise and tells the truth. There’s no time for self-doubt. We need you to lean in and not look away. To my fellow Fairbanksans, remember that we are part of the reason artists create. We are their audience, so stand with them. During National Arts and Humanities Month, let’s find ways to give back a little of the hope artists have given us. The next time a performing group offers an online event, tune in. Invest in season tickets for a season not yet imagined. Donate to an arts nonprofit, purchase a sculpture from a local artist or at minimum commit to wearing a mask so theaters, galleries and museums can get back to normal that much sooner. Finally, to our legislators and influencers, please fight for the arts. Prior to the Chimera of 2020, the creative sector contributed billions of dollars in economic activity nationwide. According to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, Alaska’s creative sector generates $1.4 billion for the state and creates 11,000 jobs. Experts project it will take Alaska’s economy three years to crawl out from under the wreckage of the pandemic. In order to achieve this, and preserve the humanity we’ve managed to maintain, you need to remember there can be no healing without hope, no recovery without creativity. You need to remember the artists.

Samantha Reynolds is executive director of North Star Ballet in Fairbanks.

  • davidpersonius

For the month of August we feature the work of an old friend and former member of Two Street Gallery, Patricia Walsh. A few years back Pat left Fairbanks behind to return to Dillingham, Alaska, the heart of Bristol Bay and ground zero of the most productive sockeye salmon fishery in the world. Last year, the fishery broke records with a catch value of $306.5 million, the highest ever recorded, according to the Anchorage Daily News (April 7, 2020). It is here in these pristine and productive waters and beautiful wild surroundings that Patricia finds inspiration for her work.

The artist says that making art is an expression of her joy in using her hands, heart, and head to create, to make something. "It is is a process that is important to me," she says. "I'm endlessly curious about everything around me, from what I see and hear, to how and why things work. Curiosity drives my work. It is always a part of everything I do."

In her previous time exhibiting at Two Street Pat had a close focus on glass as a medium. Since returning to Dillingham, however, the focus has changed. Most days in her studio now find her in the garb of a welder, leather apron and face shield in place, and wielding a steel cutting plasma torch. Pat says that she's been creating and making paintings and drawings forever and is currently exploring working with metals and mosaics. She cuts the metal by hand, welds the pieces together, and then experiments with surface techniques from rusting, using glass, acrylic paint, and powder coating.

Walsh has a degree in Art and Design from the University of Illinois and coarse work at the Chicago Art Institute, Pilchuk Glass School, Penland school of Crafts, and the Corning Glass Studio. Her work has been chosen for Alaska Pubic Art Projects in Seward, Bethel, Fairbanks, and Dillingham. Her work has also been selected for numerous juried exhibits in Anchorage, Fairbanks, Juneau, and Cordova.

A fresh body of work has arrived and we will be hanging Pat's show on Thursday, with a First Friday opening on August 6th. Unfortunately, due to coronavirus concerns, Pat will not be able to be here with us, but you can see her show later this week when we post it live on line on our facebook site @ 2 Street Gallery.

  • davidpersonius

"To create today is to create dangerously." Albert Camus, circa 1950s as he contemplated the role of the artist as a voice of resistance.

In a the recent book review in Brain Picking, Maria Popova included the above quote. Not only is the quote interesting but the subtitle of the book caught our attention:

Salvation by Words: Iris Murdoch on Language as a Vehicle of Truth and Art as a Force of Resistance to Tyranny

The subject is relevant to today's social and political unrest and what roles we play, not just as artists, but as citizens and humans. We all have to decide where we fit in the spectrum of the racial debate, brought front and center again, by the death of an unarmed black man, George Floyd, while in police custody. How our nation moves on from this is unknown as the debate and unrest continues out in front of an impending national election. Rhetoric reigns unbridled on all sides.

So for today we share a story of one artist's "deed" and a related quote from Iris Murdoch from the late 1900s.

On June 5th Two Street Gallery reopened the doors of our gallery with a very special guest artist of the month. Award-winning artist Jennifer Moss of Fairbanks speaks little of herself when discussing art, choosing instead to talk about events and ideas. While helping us introduce her current show with a live Facebook event she revealed to us and to the public that she will be donating her entire proceeds to the cause of Black Lives Matter. Think about that. All the profits from her art will be donated to a local group that helps bridge the racial divide. Even here in Fairbanks, nearly 3,000 miles away from the events in Minneapolis that spurred a national debate about equity, an art show featuring nature and peace can contribute locally to make a difference. It gives us great pause to examine our own convictions, a pause that continues, while we wrestle and learn where we fit into the question of racism in America.

"Tyrants always fear art because tyrants want to mystify while art tends to clarify. The good artist is a vehicle of truth."

-- Iris Murdoch circa 1990s

Jennifer Moss is a good artist, not just because her art is beautiful, but because of her deeds and the vehicle of truth that she drives here in the boreal north. Thank you Jennifer. Let's make this show a sellout!


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