Although it might seem like an impossible stretch— from the silhouettes of hands on the cave walls of Pech Merle to making hand turkeys for Thanksgiving— it is just the kind of reach across space and time that affirms the 30,000 years humans have used their hands to proclaim, I WAS HERE.
These days the humble elementary school hand turkey has gone wild as designers and artists have used the simple form as the starting point for some really creative birds.
You will be amazed at what this artist has done: http://carolynsart.tumblr.com/
The Dordogne region of southern France is home to hundreds of prehistoric caves. Lascaux, the most famous, had so many visitors that they had to build a replica. Human breath creates mold which destroys the delicate drawings. Grotte du Pech Merle is one of the few caves that you can enter that are still the real deal. Although the early visitors probably crawled on hands and knees down the long narrow passageway until they entered the enormous underground site, today it is an easy walk down the stairway that arrives in the cavernous hall.
Drawing of mammoths, bisons, deers, the dotted horse from the Paleolithic are captivating reminders of human impulse to observe and document experience — and those hands, those hands definitely say, I WAS HERE.
In 1962 my parents took me to the Dallas Museum of Art where I saw Andrew Wyeth’s painting That Gentleman.
The painting drew many to the museum — there were long lines with stanchions and velvet ropes to control the crowds. Was it because curious onlookers wanted a glimpse of a painting of a black man? Mind you it was a simple scene of a black man seated, in dusky light, a moment of repose. It’s of Wyeth’s neighbor Tom Clark. To me it seemed a radical move for the museum to buy a painting of a black man especially at a time when segregation still existed in the South. I remember water fountains with signs for whites only, for blacks only. This was 1962, years before the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the Civil Rights Act of 1968. Perhaps it was the shock to the public that the museum had purchased the painting or maybe, it was, as I would like to think, that there was tremendous interest in seeing a masterwork by a great American artist. Either way there were people, lots of people waiting for their turn to view the painting.
The line moved slowly in a kind of reverential prayer and when it was my turn I stepped up in front of the painting to gaze with wonder not only the power of the image but the incredible finesse of the brush work. Something in my young heart was deeply moved. At that moment I made a commitment to art. I made my pledge to become an artist. That an image could have such an incredible impact on me and the people who had come to the museum was something that I too wanted to accomplish. On that day, at age twelve, I knew that wanted make something that would make a difference — to make art that would shine a light on injustice in the world.
I visited That Gentleman in the 80’s and again in 2012. Each time as I have stood before it, with welling tears, I have confirmed my commitment. Museum staff reports That Gentleman is one of the most beloved works in the collection.
In 2012, my husband Richard Lang and I were invited to give a lecture about our beach plastic project at the Dallas Museum of Art. To present our work just steps away from That Gentleman was a giant step towards realizing the commitment I had made that day in 1962. I never could have imagined that 50 years later picking up trash from our little stretch of Kehoe Beach would shine a light on a devastating global environmental problem and would take me to Texas.
Lists of 10. These days there are lists of the ten best for almost every category: album covers, train excursions, hairstyles. So it was easy to find the list for the 10 iconic American paintings everyone should know. http://voices.yahoo.com/ten-iconic-american-paintings-every-child-learn-6351552.html?cat=4
There are many lists, many tens. What are your ten most favorite? most iconic?
On my list Mona Lisa stands heads and shoulder above. And that is how you have to see her today. Because of safety considerations she now resides behind a hermetically sealed glass enclosure in a large room where all the paparazzi can snap a pic. No one gets a quiet audience. No one can really commune with her.
Fortunately in 1967 I was able to be alone with this painting. At a time before the guards, the protective enclosure. It was just me and Mona in a small gallery, face to face.
I am so grateful for the art in my life — what I have been able to experience and express.
I am grateful to my art forebears from those first hands on the cave wall to the hands that made the first hand turkey. I say YAY to I WAS HERE and to I AM HERE.
I am grateful to you my students for giving me the reason to write this blog.
With all of the catastrophes in the world we are so lucky to be able to continue to find real joy in life—the creative moment gives us the best pleasure we can imagine.
Wishing you and yours a life full of thanks and full at Thanksgiving. Wishing you and yours light, lots of light for Hanukkah.