Honor: People and Salmon Curator's Statement
“The Power of Art”
hon•or [verb] : regard with great respect: [we honor salmon and endangered resident orcas].
art [noun] : the expression …of human creative skill and imagination… to be appreciated primarily for beauty or emotional power. [great art considers the cultural, political and environmental issues of the times].
ac•tiv•ism [noun] : the policy or action of using vigorous campaigning to bring about political or social change. there is growing activism seeking social [and environmental] transformation.
-New Oxford American Dictionary
On March 2, the New York Times published an opinion piece by David Brooks titled: The Power of Art in a Political Age. I am an artist; all of my work in the world is connected in one way or another to art, so it is no surprise that Brooks’ sentence, “[t]he arts work on us at that deep level, the level that really matters,” made my heart skip. For one’s work to be acknowledged as important is a real thing. On good days passion pumps through my veins with optimism and hope. Let’s be honest, there are bad days too. We work and live in a world facing, among other things, salmon extinctions and starving, endangered resident orcas who we know by name. Economic and social inequities are rampant. Climate crises, social injustices, persecution and oppression–the list is long. Brooks posits that the “politicization of everything” makes us “shallower” humans.
As a counterbalance to the “shallowing,” Brooks proposes THE ARTS–for three reasons:
“First, beauty impels us to pay a certain kind of attention. …It prompts you to stop in your tracks, take a breath and open yourself up… with childlike awe and reverence. It trains you to see the world in a more patient, just and humble way.”
“Second, artworks widen your emotional repertoire.”
“Third, art teaches you to see the world through the eyes of another, often a person who sees more deeply than you do.”
-Brooks, NYT, 3/2/23
The auctioneer shouts, “SOLD! To the woman wearing the NWAAE curator’s badge.” That’s me. Hook, line and sinker, I’ll bite those three delicious perspectives about the power of art.
As artists, we open our emotions to the hum of the humans, the animals and our environments. Clearly, we’re not the only ones who do this. It is wired into each of us for survival. But technology may be dampening our attention to the hum of the natural world. The artist’s job, in part, is to gather the emotional colors, lights and darks, then swirl them through a churning imagination, pull out pieces, and squish others together. Then the artist brings their creations out into the world with wonder about what will happen in front of so many eyes. Will there be awe and reverence? Will there be “widening of …emotional repertoire[s]?” Will perspectives shift? Will creating with “vigor… bring about political or social change?”
I am conscious of the risks of speaking on behalf of others’ experiences, so it is with respect that I will go out on a limb. I believe these advocate artists–who seek to evoke support for restoring salmon and orcas, and the many communities that honor and cherish these emblematic species–believe that their art has the power to seep into the hearts of those those who interact with their works. The viewers and listeners of art share in an experience. And when done well, the artist and the viewer share an intimate connection around something worthy of the time required to create, worthy of looking closely, worthy of reflection, worthy of honor. From the artist-activist perspective, it is from that intimate “level that really matters,” where the seeds of change are planted.
The singer, songwriter, Nina Simone famously said, “an artist’s duty is to reflect the times.” Those words were a response to her 1963 civil rights protest anthem, Mississippi Goddam. It was grief and rage that fueled her rapid writing of that song after her, then-husband Andy, said to her “Nina, you can’t kill anyone. You’re a musician. Do what you do.” (PBS) There is grief and rage, sorrow and frustration woven through this exhibit. Like alchemy, the artists have transformed emotions to become invitations–clad in bright colors or long curvy lines–that beckon contemplation.
To all, whether you are an artist, a poet, a scientist, an educator, a political or community leader, a student of life or a curator (of images or ideas), follow the guidance given to artistic civil rights activist, Ms. Simone, “–do what you do!” Be moved by art along the way. See the world through others’ eyes, widen your repertoire. Soak up awe and reverence for the wonder of the natural world–for people, for salmon and for the extraordinary ecosystems that sustain life in it. We are all in “the[se] times” together. No matter what you do, may your interaction with the arts inspire you to do it with a little more beauty, with creativity, with humility, with heart and with honor.
And if “an artist’s duty is to reflect the times,”–my hope, dear viewer, is that you have been moved “on a level that really matters.”
Artist, Curator, NWAAE Creative Director
Northwest Artists Against Extinction (NWAAE) is a project of Save Our wild Salmon Coalition.
To learn more about ways to support the removal of the lower Snake River dams visit www.wildsalmon.org.
Brooks, David. “The Power of Art in a Political Age,” The New York Times, 2 Mar. 2023.