Saturday, January 19, 2013

Violence and Voice

"Brought to You by the NRA" by Michael D'Antuono
Artists are responding to the horrific murder of children in Newtown, CT in a variety of ways, including a new play, "New Town," by Sean Christopher Lewis and his company Working Group Theater, in Iowa City, and a gallery show at Charles Krause Gallery opening for the inauguration in Washington, D.C.

If I have doubts about the relevance of visual art in our culture, perusing responses to this painting, "Brought to You by the NRA," by Michael D'Antuono, provides reassurance of a painting's ability to provoke a wide range of people. Look here: to view some very angry responses. It's difficult to have a real dialogue amidst the din of ad hominem attacks and hyperbole, but I think we have to keep trying.

My first day back at school after the holidays, I found the front door locked after a ‘strange looking’ man had been spotted in the neighborhood. We become paranoid after incidents like Newtown, and angry, like I am every time I board an airplane after 9/11. But now I stand in an x-ray scanner, take my shoes off, and carry liquids in tiny bottles in a plastic bag. I’m willing to do so to improve our security. Gun owners should be willing to subject themselves to the tightest restrictions as well, as it will make the world a safer place.

I teach art to 80 students, kindergarten through 8th grade. Being a schoolteacher has not been without angst since the Newtown tragedy. I have lain awake in the night pondering how I might morph into a superhero at the “call of duty,” were an intruder to enter my classroom with a gun. Elbow-deep in papier-mâché, I race to my securely locked gun cabinet in a split second and . . . not a chance.

Pablo Picasso's "Guernica" from 1937 has remained an enduring statement against violence.
No one can rebut our government with an assault rifle, the way the colonists repelled the British in an era of more simple weaponry. Arming citizens to equal the military is no longer feasible or desirable (want nuclear weapons in your neighbor's garage?). A hunter needing an AR-15 to bag a deer, when others are successful with bow and arrow, doesn’t deserve a shot. Self-protection? It didn’t work for Nancy Lanza, and why should she be any exception? It’s a money game: weapons manufacturers will seek any excuse to make a profit, regardless of whether it comes on the backs of dead children. The NRA is in lock step with them. I find them more of a threat to civil society than the gamut of our elected officials, except perhaps for those in Congress who cave to veiled threats from the NRA.  

I value safety over violence, and I value our children’s right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness over anyone’s unfettered desire to acquire assault weapons. It’s that simple. No one is threatening to take away the right to own a gun. But we can ban semi-automatic weapons; mandate background checks for ALL gun and ammunition purchases; require gun owners to register their weapons with the federal government and require states to comply with the national registry; and require all gun owners to take and pass a mental and physical health test annually. If they can, then fire away. If they can't, they forfeit the right to own firearms, just like convicted drunk drivers lose driving privileges. We need a federal buyback, a la Australia, to get weapons off the streets as soon as possible. I wish we could stop glorifying gun violence in video games and film, but my guess is that won’t happen until after the apocalypse, if ever.

My intention for this blog is to write about arts and creativity, relating to my life as a painter, gardener, and art teacher, illustrated by my own work and the work of artists I admire. My daughter helped me name it Rebecca’s Perspectives, a play on perspective drawing and perspective in painting, but also perspective as a way of thinking about a variety of topics. I’m only a few posts in, and already I’m wrestling with whether or not to tackle an issue like this. But I’ve noticed that civilised people are often reluctant or afraid to discuss the things that matter most, and we’re not better off for it.
I applaud those artists who are willing to take on the significant issues of our time, particularly when they contribute to meaningful dialogue at the risk of attack. As an artist, my instinct is to pursue what I love with renewed passion, and to continue encouraging others to seek and find beauty in their lives. My instinct is to shun violence, and this writing is probably the most I can muster as a direct response.

Tell me what you think you in the comments below. Please be civil.

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