“As an artist you stand firmly in the middle of the river as everyone else floats past. It is your responsibility to notice what’s going on around you and point it out so they can see it too.”
The Responsibility of an Artist
This is something one of my Art professors told his students when I was in college. In a freezing studio, covered in the mess of my current artwork, his words resonated in my mind. What could be a higher calling than helping people see the essential, powerful details of life they were overlooking?
Of course, many artists are only interested in helping people see how bizarre they are. But many of the most notable artists in history stood firmly in the rushing river of culture and showed us what we were missing. Some examples: Time LIFE Photography, Andy Warhol, George Orwell. Some of my favorite artists today take on this role in their own way; boldly, intelligently, beautifully.
Artist as Educator
Olson’s work is my most recent obsession. Being both an artist and a water geek, when I saw her conceptual pieces about municipal waste water treatment, all my stars aligned. Lindsay has spent countless hours immersed in the smelly, fascinating world of waste water treatment, observing the oh-so-essential bacteria, pipes, and valves. From her observations she creates colorful illustrations and intricate, tremendously skilled textile pieces. Her goal is to challenge the public conception that sewage is something to flush and forget by educating about the importance of water treatment.
Artist as Activist
I first encountered Lin’s work in the Phoenix Art Museum; “Pin River – Colorado River” is one in a series of US rivers rendered in steel straight pins, pounded straight into the wall. It’s one of those pieces that you want to understand; a familiar form you can’t quite identify. But whether you can identify the rivers in her work or not, Lin’s versions easily rival the originals in their beauty.
The popularity of the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington D.C. (one of her earliest designs) tends to overshadow her more recent work, but it’s very much worth shining a light on. Lin embraces her calling as an artist and activist in her latest project, “What Is Missing”, an endless multi-media experience broadly focused on how our changing planet impacts species. ”…if I can get you to look at something afresh — if I can get you to stop assuming you know what it is, maybe you will pay closer attention. It is about slowing you down…”
Artist as Inspiration
Marie Khouri’s sculptures barely need description. The simplicity of her work is so pure, with just a look or a touch you immediately gain a better understanding of the material and the subject. Vancouver is lucky to host her original droplet shaped sculpture, “Histoire d’O”, a clear icon of the city’s water wealth. Just like water, I’m willing to bet the sculpture is constantly overlooked by residents who take their abundance for granted. But those who appreciate the value of water and the beauty of fine art would surely stop and revel at the giant cast concrete raindrop.
If you have any favorite water- or nature-related artists, I want to hear about them. Please leave me links in the comments. And if you’d like to argue the benefit of art for art’s sake or popular vs. elite art you can find me on Twitter. I love getting to use my art degree…