Commentary

Art is Soul Food

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from the editor

Blair Jackson

The first thing I learned about art was that it was messy, and for a girl who was obsessed with wearing frilly dresses and being a princess, the messiness of finger paints and the difficulty of coloring inside the lines kept my mind tense and frustrated.

My elementary art teacher taught me a valuable lesson with her motto, “There are no mess-ups in art.” I realize now that her message may have been tactical rather than philosophical. (If she were to give a 6-year-old a new piece of paper every time he was dissatisfied with the curve or color of his line, the school would have run out of supplies within a week.)

But being forced to transform “mistakes” into part of my art (which was usually a marker drawing or construction paper collage) also challenged my idea of perfection, of intent, of method. Looking at a mistake as something to work with instead of around has been a lesson I’ve carried into my art and life.

There is no eraser for our actions. Our choices are written in permanent marker. The art of life is coordinating our mistakes with our intentions, of being aware of how everything interacts on the canvas.

Art captures invisible ideas and visions. It creates something tangible of the intangible. It conveys emotion. It transcends nationalities and ethnicities. It has the power to unite us in our humanity and to cross the ages. Have you heard this before? Or have you felt this before?

If you’ve been touched by art, in any way, and you haven’t been to the Fayette-ville Under-ground, you absolutely must take the time to visit them during their last month. If you have been to the Under-ground, I don’t have to tell you to stop by — because I’m sure you already plan to do so. There is some-thing special about the Fayetteille Underground. In the short time I’ve lived in the community, its galleries have been my favorite destinations. Most of the time, the hallways are quiet, but the walls speak. Four galleries, notes from the artists, open doors, chairs and couches.

During each visit, I’ve met a new artist. Sitting with artist Jan Gosnell last week, he laughingly said, “Everyone who picks their nose is an artist these days.”

It made me laugh because I consider myself one of those less-than-amateur artists.
In addition to sharing their art with the community, these artists have spent the past two years sharing themselves with each other and the people of Northwest Arkansas.
While in Bill Flannigan’s studio, I mentioned how difficult painting grass is for me.

“I think about it too much,” I said. Without hesitation, he pulled out a brush and began demonstrating.

Staff Photo by Blair Jackson: Another piece of unsigned art on the walls of the Underground. Constantly pushed by deadlines and the unexpected, this little statement (the size of a bar napkin) will be well-missed by yours truly.

“Remember, nature is unpredictable,” he said as he allowed the straight line to jag into an untamed blade of grass.

I remember trying to cut seaweed from construction paper in an epic underwater collage of my kindergarten year.

It was excruciating for my young hands to try to conceptualize the current flowing through the field of seaweed I had positioned below a purple finned mermaid.
The result was more cactus-like than anything.

I can’t remember attempting to capture a single blade of grass since that one project, 20 years ago, but with Bill’s encouragement, I think I could give it a shot.

At the beginning of the interviews with the two artists who are featured in this week’s cover story, I initially felt only sadness. Looking at the walls, which are now covered in art; wandering into the homey studios, full of paint and photographs and personality; talking to artists with talent, drive and a commitment to the community — and thinking of the bare walls and empty rooms that will replace them in January — seemed so heartbreaking at first.
But when I returned home, I was inspired to create. I rummaged through my sister’s art supplies and found a package of Silly Scents Crayola markers.

It wasn’t much to work with, but I remembered something I had seen in Jan’s studio — a portrait he had created using magic markers. I sat down and sketched out a self-portrait, and I decided to include it in this editorial as a testament to the influence the Underground and its artists have had on me in such a brief time.

Their empowerment and their willingness to share with others is priceless.
I only can hope they will find a new home, so I can once again sit with Jan and Bill and the other artists, perhaps to learn a little more about technique, and a little more about life.

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