In case within the confines of your studio — you were wondering about the relevance of art when the world seems to be disintegrating, you needed only to watch a supernova explode before our collective eyes and ears on television on Wednesday. In the middle of the elder statesmen, bibles, bunting and marine band’s coordinated efforts to galvanize the history-in-the-making moment of the Presidential inauguration, a 22-year-old poet delivered, in her own words, the turning of an American page.
As is art’s purpose, her work, like a thunderbolt, electrified the imaginations and spirits of those watching. Like a heart-shock in the midst of a ritual in danger of turning platitudinous, her art, afire and advancing in its ideas and execution transfixed, comforted, inspired, explained and expressed, in five minutes — in 723 words — what a million minutes or words without art could never achieve.
Like perhaps yours, my phone blew up. “Can you believe this?” Then silence. A poem — a poem — the most mysterious and delicate of artforms, was laid out before us as a soul-gift, from the soul of the future. It was as if we had all forgotten where our souls were, or were they merely battered, depleted or shrivelled, having forgotten that art is not a luxury, but rather an ardent and essential longing — because it is, in fact, the universal pathway to connection and meaning. Later, I watched the once glazed-over eyes of a pro commentator light up with wonder and humility at the revelation of being touched by it. They were suddenly eager to both understand what had happened to them and also delirious and delighted to be consumed by its magic. In five minutes, the artist affirmed their humanity in a way that even grief cannot. Only art, in the form of seeing our own souls, in being touched by its joy, in being made aware that it is even possible as an experience, can provide the vision of where we might head towards next, together.
PS: “The poem is already written, it’s already done. Now, it’s just up to you to bring it to life as best as you can.” (Elizabeth Alexander to Amanda Gorman, January, 2021)
Esoterica: Amanda Gorman was born in Los Angeles in 1998 and was raised with her two siblings by her mother, Joan Hicks, a middle school teacher. Amanda struggled with a speech impediment that made it difficult for her to pronounce certain letters. She underwent speech therapy and turned to writing to express herself. When she was 15, Amanda watched a speech given by Pakistani Nobel Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai, which inspired her to become a youth delegate for the United Nations. She was chosen as the Youth Poet Laureate of Los Angeles, earned a scholarship to Harvard and became the National Youth Poet Laureate, the first person to hold the position. She founded a youth writing and leadership program and opened the literary season for the Library of Congress. Dr. Jill Biden, after seeing Amanda’s reading, recommended her late last month for the inauguration. Amanda was given no brief, only told that the theme would be “America United.” Halfway through her research and writing process, which included studying the historic speeches of leaders tasked with bringing people together for a collective purpose during intensely challenging and divisive periods, and looking to her mentors, former Poet Laureates Richard Blanco and Elizabeth Alexander, the events of January 6th happened in the U.S. Capitol. Amanda, even more deeply inspired to speak to the difficulties America faces and the hope needed to prevail, finished her poem and gave it, without reservation, to the American people.
The Hill We Climb
When day comes we ask ourselves, where can we find light in this never-ending shade? The loss we carry, a sea we must wade. We’ve braved the belly of the beast. We’ve learned that quiet isn’t always peace. In the norms and notions of what just is isn’t always justice.
And yet, the dawn is ours before we knew it. Somehow, we do it. Somehow, we’ve weathered and witnessed a nation that isn’t broken, but simply unfinished. We, the successors of a country and a time where a skinny Black girl descended from slaves and raised by a single mother can dream of becoming president, only to find herself reciting for one.
And yes, we are far from polished, far from pristine, but that doesn’t mean we are striving to form a union that is perfect. We are striving to forge our union with purpose, to compose a country committed to all cultures, colors, characters and conditions of man.
And so, we lift our gazes not to what stands between us, but what stands before us. We close the divide because we know, to put our future first, we must first put our differences aside. We lay down our arms so we can reach out our arms to one another. We seek harm to none and harmony for all. Let the globe, if nothing else, say this is true. That even as we grieved, we grew. That even as we hurt, we hoped; that even as we tired, we tried; that we’ll forever be tied together, victorious. Not because we will never again know defeat, but because we will never again sow division.
Scripture tells us to envision that everyone shall sit under their own vine and fig tree, and no one shall make them afraid. If we’re to live up to our own time, then victory won’t lie in the blade, but in all the bridges we’ve made. That is the promise to glade, the hill we climb if only we dare it. Because being American is more than a pride we inherit; it’s the past we step into and how we repair it. We’ve seen a forest that would shatter our nation rather than share it, would destroy our country if it meant delaying democracy. And this effort very nearly succeeded.
But while democracy can be periodically delayed, it can never be permanently defeated. In this truth, in this faith we trust, for while we have our eyes on the future, history has its eyes on us. This is the era of just redemption. We feared it at its inception. We did not feel prepared to be the heirs of such a terrifying hour, but within it, we found the power to author a new chapter, to offer hope and laughter to ourselves.
So, while once we asked: “How could we possibly prevail over catastrophe?” Now we assert, “How could catastrophe possibly prevail over us?”
We will not march back to what was, but move to what shall be: a country that is bruised, but whole; benevolent, but bold; fierce and free. We will not be turned around or interrupted by intimidation, because we know our inaction and inertia will be the inheritance of the next generation. Our blunders become their burdens. But one thing is certain, if we merge mercy with might, and might with right, then love becomes our legacy, and change our children’s birthright.
So, let us leave behind a country better than one we were left. With every breath from my bronze-pounded chest, we will raise this wounded world into a wondrous one. We will rise from the gold-limned hills of the West. We will rise from the wind-swept Northeast where our forefathers first realized revolution. We will rise from the lake-rimmed cities of the Midwestern states. We will rise from the sun-baked South. We will rebuild, reconcile and recover in every known nook of our nation, in every corner called our country our people diverse and beautiful will emerge battered and beautiful.
When day comes, we step out of the shade aflame and unafraid. The new dawn blooms as we free it. For there is always light. If only we’re brave enough to see it. If only we’re brave enough to be it.
Painting is my passion and joy. My process is intuitive, though informed by good composition and design principles. I paint what I remember, or think about, or feel, or just what comes off my hands to the brush to the canvas. Texture and color are of primary importance to me. I typically choose my support, texture it, select my palette, and go. There is nothing more satisfying to me than watching paint run and move. I love the surprises. I experiment and learn constantly. It is a remarkable journey. One I am pleased to share with you.