Permanence

39

Dear Artist,

Recently, a group of art conservators were discussing the removal of monuments. “As a person invested in culture,” said one, “I have really conflicted feelings.” “Every public monument is an instrument of power,” said someone else. “Let’s put them in a museum with blurbs about their re-examined context,” said another. “Like the Berlin Wall, watching them tumble is terribly exciting,” said another. “But,” said someone else, “the sculptural rendering of that horse’s flank is magnificent!”

Robert E. Lee confederate Monument, Richmond VIrgina, May 29, 1890 Granite and bronze by Antonin Mercié Repurposed and pending removal, July 2020

Robert E. Lee Confederate Monument, Richmond Virginia, May 29, 1890
Granite and bronze
by Antonin Mercié (1845-1916)
Re-purposed and pending removal, July, 2020.

As artists, we are perhaps a little more open to the ephemeral nuances of permanence. How long should art be meant to last? Especially when built in the service of a particular agenda. The totem poles of Canada’s West Coast First Nations, for example, were carved from red and yellow cedar to commemorate ancestors, cultural beliefs, to recount legends or signify clan lineages or notable events. They were always intended to eventually return, through environmental forces, to their earthly source. And the architecturally hybridized Mosque–Cathedral of Córdoba in Andalusia, built by the Moors in 784 and re-purposed by the Catholic church in 1236, is, among many other houses of worship in Spain, an accidental monument to the shifting needs of power bodies in a centuries-old flux.

Ballerinas Kennedy George, 14, and Ava Holloway, 14, dance before the monument of Confederate general Robert E. Lee in Richmond, Virginia, June 5, 2020. Julia Rendleman photo.

Ballerinas Kennedy George, 14, and Ava Holloway, 14, dance before the re-purposed monument of Confederate general Robert E. Lee in Richmond, Virginia, June 5, 2020.
Julia Rendleman photo.

Here, in my studio, I’m beginning to think I may just be another casualty of the industrial complex: my art hinges on building material objects to be coveted and sold as commodities. I coat them with UV protector preservatives, archive them in my computer database and aspire for them to gather dust in a museum — my own kind of house of worship — my own narrow monument to power. Maybe, the sign of our civilization evolving towards its highest self can be found in more humble cultural expressions: land art, gatherings, acts of brotherhood and sisterhood, remembrance, performance — art that is not artifact at all.

Statue of Edward Colston, Bristol, UK, 1895 Stone and bronze by John Cassidy (1860-1939) Yarn-bombed in 2018. Toppled and thrown into Bristol Harbour, June 7, 2020. Retrieved by Bristol City Council, June 11, 2020, with plans to exhibit in a museum without removing the graffiti and ropes.

Statue of Edward Colston, Bristol, UK, 1895
Stone and bronze
by John Cassidy (1860-1939)
Yarn-bombed in 2018 (pictured).
Toppled and thrown into Bristol Harbour, June 7, 2020.
Retrieved by Bristol City Council, June 11, 2020, with plans to exhibit in a museum without removing the graffiti and ropes.

Sincerely,

Sara

PS: “No permanence is ours; we are a wave
That flows to fit whatever form it finds” (Hermann Hesse, The Glass Bead Game)

Esoterica: When I was 22, my Dad and I drove from Vancouver to Kingston for my graduation from Queen’s. When we got to Letellier, Manitoba, he pulled over, saying, “This is where Grandma and Grandpa were interned during the Second World War. Let’s call them to say ‘hello.’” I stepped out of the motorhome under the shadow of a grain elevator that had the word “LETELLIER” written across the top. I looked around for a marker, a plaque or some kind of acknowledgement to the 22,000 Japanese Canadians, including my mother, then two yearold,  and her three month-old baby brother, who were relocated from the coast of British Columbia to sugar beet farms and other work camps across Canada. Their homes, businesses, fishing boats, vehicles and personal belongings were confiscated and sold to pay for this upheaval. A deportation campaign began in 1946, and it wasn’t until 1949 that the remaining Japanese Canadians were granted freedom of movement within Canada again. I surveyed the town of Letellier on my bike. I saw no monument. I called my grandparents. Without a hint of bitterness, my grandmother, Kimie Shimozawa, then living with my grandfather, Kohei, in Delta, B.C., told me tenderly of her memories of their time spent there. In 1988, Prime Minister Brian Mulroney delivered an apology and paid reparations to Japanese Canadians, one month after President Ronald Reagan made similar gestures in the United States.

Statue of Jefferson Davis, Frankfort, Kentucky, 1936 Tennessee marble by Frederick Hibbard (1881-1950) Permanently removed from the Kentucky State Capitol Rotunda on June 12, 2020. Ryan C. Hermens photo.

Statue of Jefferson Davis, Frankfort, Kentucky, 1936
Tennessee marble
by Frederick Hibbard (1881-1950)
Permanently removed from the Kentucky State Capitol Rotunda on June 12, 2020.
Ryan C. Hermens photo.

Have you considered a Premium Artist Listing?  With each letter, an artist is featured at the bottom of this page. The Premium Artist Listings are a means of connecting artist subscribers through their work. Proceeds from each listing contribute to the production of The Painter’s Keys.  

“No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.” (Heraclitus)

 

 


Share.

39 Comments

  1. Thanks for this Sara….
    I am glad you remind us of the ephemeral nature of life. I have been sculpting sand, snow and ice for over 20 years, and invariably, when interviewed, get asked if I bothered by the fact that my sculpture will be gone soon. I reply that for most artists, the pleasure is in the creative process and for the audience, the fact that it will disappear shortly may give them more reasons to really appreciate it now.
    You are also right that the fine craftsmanship in the construction of these monuments should be saved if possible. Have a great day.

    • I agree with you Peter. We tend to think that we are creating deathless art without really thinking that everything eventually dies including art. Civilizations come and go throughout history, so why should art be any different? We make art for our own needs and to give pleasure to all.

      • Art these days feels so ephemeral. Why can’t museums preserve and explain statues and monuments to keep our memories alive? I do not love a culture that embraces slavery, confederacy, or any other cult.

        After a stint at chalk art, I gave it up for focusing on the beauty in the world. Navajo sand paintings also remind us of the ephemeral.

  2. Interesting perspective. I never thought about the totem poles life cycle in that way. Thanks for sharing your personal memory. My neighbour back in 1988 received reparation dollars, not because she personally was interred, but because her great grandmother was. I do believe there should be some form of commemoration in that spot, lest we forget.

  3. We are all history. We may have trouble seeing it because it moves along with us, like the mentioned river. Every chips bag and wine bottle has the same development history as a chip of wood. Everything, and ourselves, are as important as we let everything be. We, are how music, dance, drawing, and history are made, and we embrace the joy as we see fit in accord with how we see others. The idea is that history is written by the winners, but then also rewritten by the winners after that. It takes work to figure out what was also being said in the days of Shakespeare and Bach. But, who has the time? Thanks, Sara.

  4. I worked for several years with the last of the Taos Moderns artists, Ted Egri, in his later days. Some of his work was made of carved stone. One day he remarked that that stone sculpture would, at some time, succumb to the forces of nature, maybe not for a few thousand years, but eventually. Other of his sculptures were made of less lasting materials, but he felt that in either case, they were both just as valid. Thanks, Sara, for bringing this subject back to our attention.

  5. I can’t condone destroying even bad art , moving them to museums with explanatory plaque is best. The confederate statues, for the most part elevate the leaders of a rebellion and were put up to placate the rebels. They may have been necessary to bring the south back into the fold, but it is long past time to re-evaluate their presence. They are not simple history, they make heroes of what we would normally regard as traitors. The artists who created them were presumably paid long since, and the removals create a vacuum for new art to replace them. Artist opportunities!

  6. A thought provoking post Sarah. I just yesterday put up a “permanent” sign for my small gallery in our village centre on Mayne Island. The contractor who hung it and I were speculating about how long it would last – ten years? More?

    Mayne Island has a painful history/memory with interment of Japanese Canadians that is still talked about and acknowledged today. The island population was small at the time and the school had to close once the families were removed and placed in camps away from the the coast. Some people kept in touch and kept household contents for the families. But most everything, including their land, was lost and few returned to the island again once it was allowed. Island volunteers have grown a beautiful Japanese Garden in commemoration of early Japanese Settlers and the many contributions, including economic, that they made to the community. This incredible green space helps to keep their history and stories and presence alive… along with the dark mark on Canadian injustices. Thank you for sharing your family story and experience.

  7. The history of our country is being destroyed. It should NOT be judged by today’s standards, we can look at it and see how far we’ve come. The same way we look at paintings from four and five hundred years ago and understand the times and cultures they were created in. The confederate statues represent our biggest losers.

  8. How would you feel if someone took your art and tossed into the street or sprayed paint across it? Would you just shrug and call it ephemeral?

    • You are spot on. It is one thing that nature degrades everything eventually. It is quite another to be determined to erase history and intentionally destroy someone else’s work. If one likes or doesn’t like something it should at least make one think and examine, why is that? Maybe then it is possible to eventually come to a system of values live by and defend, rather than just a blind ideology that only seeks to tear down, desecrate. That path leads only one way, authoritarian and obliteration.

      • THIS CURRENT RIOT MENTALITY OF DESTRUCTION OF STATUES IS CRIME, AND NO MATTER THE ANGER ASSOCIATED WITH IT, THOSE DOING IT ARE CRIMINALS AND SHOULD BE HELD ACCOUNTABLE BY ARREST.

  9. While everything, including man and woman, may return to dust, art seems to be both an act of humility and power – a balancing act that we learn from and find new voices in, and understand where we have come from and perhaps look to where we are going. Art in this way is everlasting. Thank you for this letter Sara and of course your art.

    • Sara- Painters’ Keys, you did it again!
      Wonderful article, love the beginning quote about the waters(time) past. But we can not calmly talk about something that is emotionally explosive. No art should be destroyed out of anger, just remove it from public land or the use of government dollars to keep it up into private quarters. No big deal! Let a joint committee of concerned citizens met in each locale and decide which should be removed deliberately by the date it was built, the value of it as an art displayed, or why the person was being honored; not vandals without a purpose, but a political agenda. C’mon Washington, Jefferson, etc are men or their times ..move on. There are bigger matters to work on..like education of our children and the virus. Or anything that is old is not automatically valuable and worthy of saving Also all creatively made pieces are true art. But who is the judge? the makers, the experts, the buyers, or the admirers. None, but all in a bi-racial committee

      Let us not forget that generally dictators, evil people, and tyrants’ images in the past were eagerly destoried without days of them being replaced, not 150 years later. The old jokes in the civil rights days were “forget swimming pools and libraries .. blacks will not use either of them once they are open, but great for news reels and stories to tell at banquets how they were denied entry to them. Neither can those misguided or those paid to arouse the silent majority of people for political reasons. please note more whites are being shown on the news than Blacks and the class of black looters involved are losers anyway in the lottery of dreams and ambitions. i.e. Dreams -fulfilling requires hard work, responsibility and discipline; and ambition requires vison and life-long learning by doing. i.e. not a lite burning match, the blow of a sledge hammer or a splash of from a bucket of paint and the overcast from a dark night to sneak and damage. Some of these thugs are drawing history to come to a full stop without understanding or knowing their own histories. For example, Dr. King did not organize the March, he only spoke at it beautifully. In fact, he was against it until a few weeks before he spoke. Malcolm X is now being treated like a hero..it is easy to talk tough about what you would do to the white folks when you are in the center of Harlem surrounded by thousands of people of the same ilk. The Scots say “before removing a fence , first find out why and when the fence was built in the first place; or when or why a statute was built before you replace it. Most of the confederacy- related monuments were done in the 1940-60’s , not after the civil war and some should be removed. Enough, but a tip of the hat to your newsletter, Dr. King said ‘it was not the out and out rejections of the racist, but the refusal of good people to get involve or even discuss them matters that worried him the most. Cheers

  10. Thank you, Sara, for sharing a bit of your family history. I have recently been studying the art of Chiura Obata (Chiura Obata, An American Modern, ShiP Wang, 2018.) His work from the Topaz War Relocation Center in Utah, US are informative and moving. I commend Wang’s included essay on art from internment camps. Art memorializes history. Its continued celebration may indicated where there is room for social advancement.

  11. Let’s just erase history and pretend all the unpleasant things didn’t happen, shall we? Let’s deface and burn and loot all the stuff we don’t like and expect those who did like it to agree with us….Let’s turn the whole country into a graffiti work of art idolizing our own priorities and demands and then dance a little jig on the rubble to celebrate….Sounds like the rhetoric of war to me. Better to have been a Japanese in North America than an American (or Guamanian, Philippine, Chinese) in Japan during WW2….but war is never fair nor pleasant, although it is inevitable as long as we continue to behave irresponsibly toward each other and our very fragile planet.

  12. I have been reading the Power of Now, Eckhart Tolle, to help process these days. It is profoundly comforting for me to find the inner landscape of being. As an artist, he refers to artifacts and objects such as writing, sculpture, painting, and other manifestations of sublime beauty as signposts- not the experience itself, but simply a symbol to help you get somewhere else: the unmanifested presence of being, and our own inherent connection, and interdependence. Yes, our human objects are meant to dissolve, especially when they are no longer appropriate or useful (or possibly every were).

  13. stephan chmilnitzky on

    Oh my, oh my how easy for us civilized folk to get emotional..much of what we see is planned, to have us take sides and fight for some silly side means nothing. Art is something that a few of us do, to create is in our genes. If fire or the hands of hatred remove our works from existence then so be it..I have lost hundreds of painting, never will I give it another thought. We need to go on and be thankful for all we experienced on this blessed path we stepped on! To hold on to your artistic efforts you may call it your legacy but to some it may be a burden or even a mess. I may sound insincere but as I stepover my focus will be on my next adventure not a book of images! (I know you think I have a burning desire!)

  14. A great subject at this time of pandemic. Permanence, you know as human beings we leave a thread of permanence by having children and continuing the continuum. Throughout human existence markers are left by previous generations, our museums are full of this wonderful stuff, they are a called artefacts. Without them we are unable to learn and touch the intelligence of those before us, enabling us in our time zone to move ever forwards. For, without what has remained permanent we cannot learn digest and solve many of our problems of now. Frankly I detest impermanence in art especially selfishly sculpture. In my sculpture practise I engineer permanence wether in small intimate maquettes or in my larger scale public pieces. Its akin to going out into the rain or a severe storm in just a pair of pants or socks nothing else. As a boy scout we were taught’ Be Prepared’, and quite rightly so. Today our world has suffered a huge body blow Covid 19, to quote its a ‘Disrupter’ to our stability our foundation of safety and longevity. Many of our current values are becoming flimsy, immediate and fleeting, and fast. Perahps the pandemic is a handbrake that has been applied focusing our vision on more permanent values, and deeper lasting insights as to where we are actually headed and what our legacy may be?

  15. What is it about the statues in question do we venerate? And are they something we want to venerate. I, for one, will not venerate anything that implies that evil is good. So, for me, venerating men that did evil (slavery) is a bad thing. Doesn’t matter how beautifully made the statues are, they venerate men who thought they could own both body and soul of human beings. Those statues do not deserve to be immortalized.

  16. Linda Anderson Stewart on

    Historical references/monuments are always useful and should be marked clearly with information about when and why they were built and by whom. That info should be continually updated to put it into perspective for all parties to understand and digest.
    The art work they are made of, should always be respected for what it is…..an example of excellence in the skill and craft of the time. To put more emphasis than that on any man made object is to give them more power than they deserve. Symbols change…as do leaders….and regimes…..styles and opinions. To know ones history is to be informed and armed with the tools to understand where you come from…..and to make change.

  17. I would ask, ” what is the recent motivation of the destruction of confederate statues”? Is it a way to let out all sorts of pent up emotions in an impulsive manner in these times? I do believe it is worthwhile to consider and examine the meaning of statues representing the confederacy in public areas. At the same time, they are part of our history. History is important to understand as it helps us to understand the now and move on to the future. Perhaps an organized and civil plan to relocate them to the annals of a museum would be more meaningful. That would provide an opportunity for
    ourselves and the next generation to learn about our heritage. What about those monument to former slave holder leaders ie. Washington, Jefferson and the like? They too did harm as well as good and I would argue it is never one way. I don’t believe that we should worship graven images or sculptures. On the other hand they are part of our political, cultural and artistic fabric of our lives. The essences of them is the narrative and needs to be respected for what it is and not forgotten. Destroying statutes of Confederates will not make our history go away. It happened.
    It is important for all of us to take note of our actions and how we promote peace or spark fires.

  18. This letter touched a real concern of mine in these times, and your personal story was beautiful, Sara. I appreciate the forms of art that represent our history — books, music, art, etc. — the narratives of man. Observing human nature is always a reflection that brings insight. Seeing statues attacked in the news was painful, but those scenes filmed are also now a part of an art form in history. We can turn to anger against the past, or we can turn to our future with care and love. Dealing with my own distress I found some inspiration a few weeks ago in the art of Titus Kaphar. I suggest both his Ted Talk, Can art amend history? and the Artist Talk | Titus Kaphar on Princeton University Art Museum ( YouTube channel). Be well all in spirit and body.

  19. OMG!! I thought I was the only living person who actually read and enjoyed Hesse’s “The Glass Bead Game”. And to quote from it? Kudos to you!!!

  20. Charles Eisener on

    While I must admit to some sympathy with those who deface and destroy monuments, the questions raised are somewhat disturbing. If I am sensitive to something you own or post, am I free to physically attack you? These statues and monuments are only symbols of a previous society, after all. Their removal changes nothing. Do we also wish to see our nation’s history re-written to eliminate all reference to these persons? Where do we stop? What is enough?

    May I begin destroying autos belonging to service members because one of them left my uncle with permanent disabilities? There needs to be a balance, and that is absent when actions are based upon emotion. Do attitudes need to change? Certainly! But nothing is changed by trying to erase the past; it is what we do from this point forward that matters. Our behavior only changes when our attitudes and/or values change. The primary question then, is whether we are each prepared and willing to embrace a change of attitude, not how many reminders of our past behavior remain.

  21. As an artist I also feel conflicted about the monuments although less so for the Confederate ones. I remember seeing one at Gettysburg that featured an artist, and several workman and admiring how wonderfully executed and finely detailed the sculpture was. I would like to see them moved, or given a different plaque explaining the history and why they are objectionable. Then it would be great to have new commissions for each one removed – that would boost
    employment for artists.

  22. Thank You Sara for a lovely and thoughtful reflection on events around us. The suggestion on placing some of these icons for preservation in museums is a good idea and I can’t help to see the relevance of your article to today’s news in which the Turkey announced turning the Hagia Sophia, currently a museum, back into a Mosque (previously an Orthodox Christian cathedral). Artists reflect their present times, but although an ephemeral thing like the light of fireflies, retaining their works allow us to be aware of where we have been artistically and as a society. They make us aware of our changing values. I too say keep them.

  23. What a thought-provoking article. I’ve enjoyed reading the comments. I just want to bring up Mt. Rushmore, which is an in your face insult to those Native Americans who have always regarded the Black Hills as sacred. The Park Service has always tried to honor Native Americans in some small ways, but Mr. Rushmore is impossible to place in a museum. All we can do is read our history so carefully that we understand why the people of an entire race and culture could feel so disturbed by a monument that only now are we beginning to see for what it is. Of course, it goes both ways. Two good movies to watch, The Rape of Europa (also the Monuments Men) and “Woman in Gold”

  24. I’d just like to say that -amid all the hot air being generated on this topic just now – the conversation that Sara has initiated is the most balanced, thoughtful and civilised that I have read. Three cheers for the artists! My own thought is this: if we start pulling down statues, what’s the next step? Burning books in the street?

  25. Pingback: Can Art Be Oppressive? - Photography by Ira Gardner

  26. Pingback: Can Art Be Oppressive? - EIDOS ARTWORKS

  27. Love the discussion your post has inspired Sara! Love your personal history. I wish I had taken the opportunity to talk to your mom when presented to me at Hollyhock. I tend to wait for invitations rather than bulling my way (except when driving!)

Leave A Reply

Featured Workshop

Powerful Design, Sensual Edges put Together with Exciting Color (Online)
August 31, 2020 to September 3, 2020

TheJourneyBegins.167689-768x766Powerful Design, Sensual Edges put Together with Exciting Color

Design is the foundation of any painting and you want your paintings to have powerful designs filled with exciting color. In this course we will discover designs two hidden meanings around where you put your center of interest plus how to use neutrals to make your paintings glow and finally add sensual edges that are the soul of the painting.

This workshop will be a live virtual event. I will be there with you during the entire four days. I can’t wait as I am excited. Please email me if you have any questions….gwen@gwenfox.com

August 31 – September 3, 2020, Location…Online

Register here: https://gwenfox.com/retreat/powerful-design-sensual-edges-put-together-with-exciting-color/

 

 

http://painterskeys.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/shawn-jackson-artwork-landscape-mountain-trees_big-wpcf_300x247.jpgMelanie Islet
acrylic on canvas
24 x 30 inches

Featured Artist

Shawn’s paintings evoke the feelings of the West Coast, its shores and islands, ponds and lakes.

Share.

Robert and Sara Genn Twice-Weekly Letters

Subscribe and receive the Twice-Weekly letter on art. You’ll be joining a worldwide community of artists.
Subscription is free.