Obscurity | Modernity

Nov. 30, 2017

In the artist’s life, one encounters moments of severe consciousness. These moments evoke a strong reality which shocks the sentimental mind and plagues aspiration. It tempts to wreck the person’s projected course amid process, and causes one to examine the logic, questioning the visionary’s place and purpose within current realms of modernity. 

Somewhere between the beginning and end of any work’s fruition, I too, battle this severe state of consciousness. Often, before the work ever begins, I question its relevance and this circumstantial argument ensues. There comes a time in any artist’s life, whether the artist be a painter, an author, actor, musician, or otherwise, that one must break through the barriers presented by time. There will always be an afflicting argument for you or against you, causing you to question your purpose, plan and the relevance for it. 

Why paint a picture when you can purchase a photocopy?  Why write a letter when you can email? Why purchase a newspaper when you can read the news online? Why cook when you can purchase food pre-packaged? These questions paralyze the creative process, and tempt to dismember a work piece by piece before it might be completed or before society might have a chance to embrace or reject it.

Following the Thanksgiving holiday, I returned to work on Monday. At day’s end, I closed the gallery and began my drive home. Along the way, I took notice of the Christmas displays on front lawns and the twinkling lights suspended from rooftops. For every home that exhibited festive charm, there were many others that did not. I thought silently how thankful I am for those who chose to do a little more. In a world where I’m often told, “people don’t care about that anymore,” I still do. And it’s ‘ever encouraging to see that others do also. Because of those who do, we still celebrate and create memories.

During the holiday, I discovered a documentary recently released, called California Typewriter. Of all the obscurities that one might adopt for a documentary picture, this one in particular peaked my interest. It is with great passion for both past and future that I recommend all view it. 

The film features Tom Hanks as well as other influential figures, in addition to California Typewriter, a small typewriter merchant repair shop in Berkeley, Calif. As I viewed the portrait that captured respective views on the vintage machine, the parallels to my own life and work seemed unmistakably evident.

Will we ever know the true value of a thing until it is lost?

I present this question to my art students, to remind them why we create, and why we take the time. Technology and many other avenues of modern convenience can certainly assist us in fulfilling tasks efficiently. But it shouldn’t reduce our values for that which is tangible.

We treasure the coveted classic cars, and cook with our favored old pots and pans. I’m sure many were affectionately used this recent weekend. But where are our letters and our photographs. What will the future generations inherit? Perhaps varying drives, cables and cords and SD chips?

Sometime this week, I’ll back up my files and save them to another external drive, but first, I’ll print them. I dropped my phone last Friday. Soon, I should replace it. Most of the pictures stored there are also on Facebook and Instagram, but they hold little promise for posterity if they only lie behind the cracked screen. My grandmother has albums with pictures of everyone, more than 100 years of ancestry. Every memory of my childhood and youth is cataloged in boxes bulging with 4x6 snapshots. And in special journals exist pressed mementos, newspaper clippings and ticket stubs.

I return to my easel, reminded of why I began. I wrote this piece of thoughtful prose for this week’s edition of the newspaper, because I’m told that people still care about it. The artists, the keepers of keys, who hold open the passages to pastime have prevailed if you’re reading this. Painted, penned, photographed and printed are the postcards of our existence.

Sarah West