Saturday, March 26, 2016

Should we throw away labels or redefine them?

People's faces always tell a good story.  Some quickly looked away as if they just committed one of the seven deadly sins.  Others resembled cats in doorways: They like looking from afar, imagining what’s on the other side of the door but happy for the moment not to find out. Then there were  people that came up right away and wanted to know what it’s all about.   Such were the reactions when my fine art nudes were on display during an artist expo at a recent professional networking event. One of those “cat” individuals actually crossed the threshold by coming back to my table after he had pursued all the others. On my display board it mentioned my solo show and ebook, “Hero Myth of the Masculine Journey.” He asked, “What do you mean when you use the word masculine? That’s a loaded word.” 
Looks told stories that night

It became clear during our subsequent conversation that he was referring to the gender stereotypes that this label caters to. Society projects what men should be like, how they should act and dress. I told him that the title reflects my attempt to redefine masculinity. Through the use of haiku, myth and photographs, I created a story that asserts that men define masculinity for themselves through their life choices and attitudes. There comes a time when we must decide whether to live life as an adventure or play it safe and level out at mediocrity. This choice boils down to whether we chose to answer our calling in life or not.

I was thrilled that he asked the question, because it meant that he responded to the work. By the end of the conservation, this gentleman said that I was defining the word “masculine” in a different way than he imagined. This conversation got me thinking about labels in general. Should we get rid of them entirely or refine them? We know some groups have taken the hurtful labels of the past and reshaped them into a new positive identity. “Queer” is one such label that comes to mind. Still others labels have been thrown out.   I think ultimately the group that the label attempts to categorize should answer that question. Because I am a man, I wanted to use art to redefine masculinity.     What are we doing to either redefine or throw away the labels that box us in to what others want us to be? 

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Do we believe in limitless possibilities?

They chatter like texting clicks on teenage smart phones. They like to go out to eat together, and sometimes display terrible table manners by throwing their food into the air. Their playgrounds are the final frontier of our planet. These are orca whales, also know as killer whales.

Films, like any art form, have the power to change our way of thinking. The 2013 documentary, Black Fish, explored the detrimental effects on captivity on orca whales after the death of a Sea World trainer in 2010.  On March 17, 2016, the CEO of Sea World and the CEO of the U.S. Humane Society announced together that Sea World would no longer be breeding or keeping orcas.  While there was already a movement in society toward ending performance animal acts (Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus announced they are ending elephant shows by May 2016), there is no question that this documentary sped up the cultural momentum to end this practice.

Like a new dawn, art offers limitless possibilities.
At the 2016 Academy Awards, we saw another example of the power of film. A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness won best documentary short. The film recounted the story of a young 19-year-old Pakistani woman who was shot but survived an “honor” killing attempt by her father and uncle after she eloped with a man they disapproved of. After seeing the film, the Pakistani prime minister expressed support to change the law that allows the murderers to go free if forgiven by the victim’s family, which often happens as the result of coercion.

While we can acknowledge that art can inspire change in the culture, it can be harder to see how it affects our daily lives. But art for me has done just that.  Art has given me a confidence in the last six years that I didn’t have before. It’s allowed me to articulate a vision of what I want and put my ideas out there irregardless of what others might think. When you believe in yourself first rather than seeking approval from others, you can accomplish great things. Dreams suddenly have no limits, as they are no longer tied to other people’s expectations. This mindset  can have a profound impact on changing us and others.  Do we believe that changing our world and ourselves has limitless possibilities?

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Is it time for us to get slammed?

Let your words be heard
As their feet hit the ground coming forward, little did we know that their words would strike the earth like boxes wrapped in tears. Each of them shed their story in different ways.  One used rich metaphors that drew lines of experience like a constellation on a star chart. Some presented their life experience like a comedy routine; others, like a rap artist. Through these various voices, they recounted how they were sexually assaulted, rejected by their family because of their sexual orientation and grew up in foster care after losing both parents.  What took place that night didn’t happen in a  counselor’s office.  It happened at a poetry slam.

Hear Here is a local organization that uses poetry as a way allowing others to freely share their life stories and to build inclusive community relationships. They conduct multiple monthly workshops, open mic nights and poetry slams for all ages. They are part of a broader national poetry slam movement, in which poets read their original work and are judged by selected members of the audience or by a panel of judges. On the night I went, they were conducting a youth semi-final poetry slam consisting of high school and college students. These poets where competing for a chance to go to a national competition in Washington, DC.

During the slam, each poet recounted personal, community and national tragedies. The dark themes of the evening were relentless and disturbing. One may question the benefits of such story telling, as no solutions or ways of moving forward were presented.  

It’s a mistake to conclude that hope is about knowing what to do next. Instead, we can be encouraged when people demonstrate tremendous courage by sharing deeply personal tragic events in their lives. There is hope when people understand that they are not alone in facing certain life circumstances. There is power in using your voice to cast the dark issues in a society into the light. There is hope when community members can be real with each other and not hide behind the facades encouraged by our culture.

Hear Here’s mantra is, “Someone is always listening.”  It’s possible we may be the only person positioned in a person’s life to hear what they have to say. Is it time for us to get slammed and listen  to each other’s stories?  One wonders how many tragedies could be prevented if we as a society did just that. 

Sunday, March 6, 2016

When’s the last time you saw a shooting star with someone?

The magic of shared experience
I can make mountains rise and erode within seconds. My voice is the vibrating scythe that harvests the wind of the valleys. I sit before a sponge like projection that will drain away the ocean of spoken words.

Check. Check. The monitor lines peak and dip on the sound control board. Within my imagination, I had the powers of Zeus so long as my voice didn’t crack due to my cold. “Hello everyone out in radio land…This is the Photo Show.”

When I was interviewed on the radio about my upcoming solo show, I was asked if I was looking forward to seeing my work for the first time through someone else’s eyes. It was a great question, because it points how something that becomes too familiar can lose its impact over time. Now that I’m writing this blog two days after my show’s opening, I can say that seeing others react to my work has made it magical again. It reminds me of the tremendous wonder I felt when first capturing these images.

When I create art, it’s like I’m seeing a shooting star from a hillside. If I see it by myself, it’s unquestionably a beautiful thing. But if I’m with someone else and see it through their eyes, it exponentially becomes a bigger experience.  This is why art builds community, because the true joy lies in sharing ideas and experiences with others. When’s the last time you saw a shooting star with someone? Maybe it’s time to embrace the night sky and find someone to climb that hill with you.