Monday, November 7, 2016

Art as a Universal Language, Part 7: Why We Should All Be Feminists

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, in her "We Should All Be Feminists" TED Talk, asserts that every human being has the responsibility to call him- or herself a feminist.  She points out that when men or women do not embrace feminism, they are literally denying "the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities."

She recounts an instance when she went to a restaurant with a male friend in her home country of Nigeria.  She had to have a man accompanying her in order to enter the restaurant, to guarantee she wasn't a prostitute in search of business.  When she tipped the man who helped them find a parking spot, rather than thanking her, the man thanked her friend.  The man thanked the friend when she paid him because it was inconceivable to 
him that a woman could be successful, educated, possess her own money, or make any independent decisions.  Just as Chimamanda Adichie felt overlooked and discounted, this 
is how many women feel all over the world every day. 

Hillary Clinton campaign poster, by Tony Puryear

November 8, 2016 may be the final day of the 227 year history of exclusively male Presidents of the United States. The population of the United States has been 51% female for a long time.  Likewise, 51% of visual artists today are women, according to the National Museum of Women in the Arts.  In spite of this, the Guerrilla Girls (an art-oriented group of women who fight discrimination), remind us that "Less than 4% of the artists in the Modern Art section of New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art are women, but 76% of the nudes are female."

Is this really who we are--a society that views women so overwhelmingly voyeuristically, but not intellectually or by their level of skill?  Unfortunately, the lack of outcry among women (and men) against remarks by Donald Trump in the 2016 election make it seem so.  

Check out this video about Fierce Women of Art:

In 1971, Linda Nochlin's essay "Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?" was published.  In it, she writes:  
"Why have there been no great women artists?" The question tolls reproachfully in the background of most discussions of the so-called woman problem. But like so many other so-called questions involved in the feminist "controversy," it falsifies the nature of the issue at the same time that it insidiously supplies its own answer: "There are no great women artists because women are incapable of greatness....The question "Why have there been no great women artists?" is simply the top tenth of an iceberg of misinterpretation and misconception; beneath lies a vast dark bulk of shaky idees recues about the nature of art and its situational concomitants, about the nature of human abilities in general and of human excellence in particular, and the role that the social order plays in all of this."

45 years after Nochlin's essay, in 2016, Artnet News posted the Top 100 Lots by Living Artists: 2011-2016.  This list features the 100 most expensive works of art that sold throughout the world for the highest prices during this most recent five year period.  Not one of the works in those top 100 highest priced acquisitions was by a female artist.


It's certainly time to appreciate the phenomenal women artists in our midst.  They are not only capable of greatness; they've already achieved it ten times over.  It is time to spread knowledge of their works by writing about them, visiting their exhibitions, and collecting their works.  We need to do this not just because they are women, but because they are making incredibly important art that communicates with us through a different lens.

Hung Liu  Duohua:  Falling Flowers  50 x 50" mixed media on panel, 2016

Hung Liu  Dandelion--Cicada  50 x 50" mixed media on panel, 2016

Hung Liu, for instance, is one of the most influential of all women artists painting in the United States today.  Hung labored in the wheat fields of China during Mao's Cultural Revolution; she worked tirelessly for years to get her passport from the Chinese government so she could attend art school in the U.S. She left all she knew behind in China, and came to the U.S. with nothing.  Thanks to her unfaltering work ethic and skill, Hung Liu's paintings are now in virtually every major art museum in the United States.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie speaks of being suspected of being a prostitute when she entered any restaurant or hotel alone in Nigeria, but Hung Liu gives the concubines and peasants of China new life in her paintings. She paints the images of these bedraggled women as if they are royalty, surrounding them with fortuitous symbols and gold.  

Hung Liu  Route 66 with Cat  25-1/4 x 31-1/4"  6-plate color lithograph, 2016

Hung Liu  Black Madonna  2-1/4 x 31-1/4" four-color lithograph, 2016

Hung Liu  Route 66  25-1/4 x 31-1/4"  6-plate color lithograph, 2016

Hung Liu turns her attention to themes of American struggle in her latest series of works, inspired by the great American artist Dorothea Lange's Dust Bowl era photographs.  For Hung Liu, "Every day is Thanksgiving, and every day is also Memorial Day."  She memorializes the grit and determination of so many American women with this new body of work.

Hung Liu's artwork is currently the subject of a solo exhibition at American University's Katzen Art Center, coinciding with this momentous election.  This is important because like Hillary Clinton, Hung Liu is a born warrior.  In a true coup for women in contemporary art, the National Portrait Gallery is commissioning Hung Liu to paint great American actress Meryl Streep's portrait.

Another contemporary art icon is Squeak Carnwath.  Carnwath's paintings are in permanent collections in The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Yale University Art Gallery, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and many more.  

Carnwath is an artist-philosopher whose work opens a portal into our every-day collective consciousness.  Playlists, grocery lists, scam emails, color wheels...all ephemera of our shared human experience.  Carnwath's highly personal symbolism in her art feels like the symbolism we use in our own lives.  She is able to elevate the banal to the beautiful in her paintings.  It would be hard for anyone--male or female--to match the artistic gesture, line quality,  and painterliness in Carnwath's work.
Squeak Carnwath  Trip  70 x 70" oil and alkyd on canvas over panel, 2012

Squeak Carnwath  Short Shuffle  30 x 30" oil and alkyd on canvas over panel, 2014

New Mexico sculptor Karen Yank makes fabulous sculptural public art commissions of monumental scale, in addition to her gallery-scale works.

Karen Yank's Boulder, Colorado Public Art Project, "Current"

There are many more contemporary women artists we need to be celebrating.  Take a moment to look at these amazing artists:

Nina Tichava in her Santa Fe studio

Nina Tichava  Every Other Freckle  40 x 40" painting and collage on panel, 2016

Friday, September 23, 2016

Art as a Universal Language, Part 6: Art as Social Change

by | Sep 23, 2016 | Art as a Universal Language, Blog | 0 comments

Kara Walker‘s “Testimony” reveals the injustice in African American history

Contemporary Syrian war poster portrays the reality of childhood

In previous editions of this blog, I’ve written about the universal symbolic language of art, and visual art as a mode of communication. One of my greatest interests is how art can be used to instigate social change.  In the 1980s, I was awarded the Raoul Wallenberg Scholarship to study the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.  Once I arrived to study at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, I realized I wanted to focus my research on how art can direct attention to major social, political, and environmental urgencies.

Image by Australian street artist “Meek”, stencil art of his “Begging for Change”

Since the beginning of civilization in Mesopotamia, rulers
used art to depict their elevated status and power. Every
sight-enabled member of the populace understood that the
person depicted largest and closest to the life-giving source 
of the sun, wielded the greatest influence. The social structure
was as simple as powerful=larger; less powerful=smaller.

Victory Stele of Naram Sin, c. 2200 BCE

Naram Sin video

When one group overtakes another, it communicates its power
visually, by destroying the most sacred cultural relics of the 
previous culture and supplanting them with visual symbols that
reflect its own ideology. Roman emperors stole Egyptian obelisks
with hieroglyphics boasting of acts of great Egyptian pharaohs.
The Romans erected these obelisks, like cultural hostages, in
front of their own most important structures, to show the 
dominance of Rome over Egypt.  

Likewise, when Christianity replaced pagan spirituality in Rome, 
Christians took this cultural hostage-taking a step further, by 
sticking a cross on top of the obelisk in front of the Roman
Pantheon.  This communicated the ultimate triumph of Christianity, 
over the pagan religions of the past.  This one image of the Pantheon 
below, represents repeated cultural “replacement” from c. 1303, B.C.E., 
to the present day.

Athena, Goddess of Peace and War, intact, in Palmyra 

The same Athena sculpture, after Isis destroyed its head and arms, at end of hall

Destroyed Buddha of Bamiyan, Afghanistan

The Taliban’s destruction of the Buddhas in BamiyanIsis’s 
obliteration of great artifacts in Nimrud–these acts of 
annihilation are acknowledgements of the ability of 
visual images to communicate messages of cultural 
significance to humanity.  Destroying them is like wiping 
out an entire society’s visual language or history.  It is only 
due to their fear of the power of those spiritual images, that 
the Taliban and Isis chose to destroy them.  Perhaps it is the 
power Buddhism gives to the individual for his own self 
guidance, rather than reliance on an external God, that is so  
threatening to their oppressive rule.

What if, instead of destroying works of art because we fear 
their ability to convey important cultural truths, we embrace 
the power of art to help unite turbulent societies? 
In our current environment of incredibly oppressive, 
xenophobic rhetoric, art can--literally--show us a different 
way.  It can present concept and leave the creativity of 
solution to each individual viewer.

Israeli artist Drew Tal grew up in Israel in the 1960s, when the 
country was a mixture of many diverse cultures.  Rather than 
narrowing his perspective due to religious or political differences, 
Tal is fascinated by different customs and beliefs.  He uses his 
photographs to mirror human realities in a neutral manner.  

In his “Revelation”, Tal gives the brave words “I Am” to 
Muslim woman who could be considered voiceless.  He allows us 
to perceive her individuality in a sea of imposed homogeneity.  
In presenting this unidentifiable woman to us, Tal reminds us that 
while we are so often inclined to define people by their larger group, 
every single human being is an individual, with the same mother, 
father, sister, brother, relationships we use to define ourselves.

The symbolism in Tal’s “Revelation” is dense.  He “reveals” to 
viewers not only this woman’s individual worth, but he also 
poetically bridges the abyss of misunderstanding between Muslim 
and non-Muslim cultures.  “I Am” is a significant statement, 
appearing in Exodus 3:13–15, when Moses says to God, “If I 
come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your 
fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ 
what shall I say to them?” God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” 
And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me 
to you.’” God

In Tal’s “Revelation”, the “I” singles out an individual from the 
group; the "Am" refers to the universal, shared divinity in every
human being, regardless of political, religious, cultural belief. 
Tal’s art is the kind of imagery that can effect change in the world.

French street artist/photographer, JR, is one of today’s most 
engaging artists, using his art to help people all over the world 
make change.  Rather than just creating images for people to 
ponder, he makes the people themselves into their own art.  
JR takes photographs of people in their communities, or has 
locals photograph themselves, all over the world.  This helps 
people see that they can literally create their own reality, by 
rendering themselves as friend or foe within their respective 
community.   JR won the TED prize.  He asked Israeli and 
Palestinian people to make funny faces, printed monumental 
images of them, and mixed them together on each side of the 
wall separating the two areas.  He uses his art to magnify our 
similarities, rather than our differences.  His art opens our 
eyes to the idea that we can share humor, rather than 
animosity, even in the face of major differences.

JR’s Inside Out project in Israel

Visual images transcend barriers of specific spoken and 
written language.  Visual language is universal, touching 
each human being on a shared somatic level.  Therefore, 
artists have a unique responsibility to reveal issues we need 
to confront as a global human family. By changing the context 
of these images, visual artists can allow us to “see” a different 
way forward. Art can, in fact, change the world in a positive 
way, if we are open to its messages.

End of Part 6

Tonya Turner Carroll
Turner Carroll Gallery and Art Advisors
Santa Fe, New Mexico, USA

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Art as a Universal Language, Part 5: Color as Communication



Before there was a written language, color was the universal language of mankind. Prehistoric humans used color to describe every aspect of their lives. Red= blood; orange= fire; yellow=sun; green=natural vegetation/food source; blue=air; indigo=water; violet=the color of sunset/sunrise transition. 

Cave painting from Lascaux
c. 17,000 BCE
Historians believe prehistoric people would travel up to 25 miles to mine iron, for pigments to make the red and ochre paints for their cave paintings.

Tomb of Sennedjem
Dar el-Medina, Egypt
13th Century BCE
Ancient Egyptians valued color symbolism in their tombs and temples so deeply that their desire for additional color options fueled their efforts in mining and trade. 

We know for certain that the Greek and Roman sculptures we think of as monochromatic white, were originally polychromatic! They had red lips, colored eyes, brilliantly hued garments--all painted with painstakingly created paints from pure pigment. The more rare the pigment, the more exalted the subject.
Peplos Kore/ reconstruction
Peplos Kore (Acropolis Museum), Peplos Kore cast, (University of Cambridge)
c. 530 BCE, Acropolis, Athens, Greece
University of CambridgeFaculty of Classics

In 1025, Persian philosopher Avicenna included the use of color as medical treatment in his encyclopedic The Canon of Medicine. Since then, chromo therapy has been used to stimulate various physical and psychological responses. Modern scientific research suggests that viewing bright colors causes the brain to release the “feel-good hormone” dopamine; while cool blues provoke release of oxytocin, causing feelings of calm.

Light dispersion through a prism

In the mid 1600s, Sir Isaac Newton discovered that by shining light through a prism, he could separate light into the colors naturally occurring in a rainbow. The resulting colors: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet, give us the pithy acronym Roy G. Biv, which has helped multitudes of school children master the visible color spectrum.

Fausto Fernandez, "Sound to Color Synesthesia" Collage, image transfer, acrylic, and glitter on canvas
Fausto Fernandez, "I Ate Some Mushrooms on Friday and Remembered I was Madly in Love with Her"
Oil, collage, glitter, spray paint, and oil crayon on canvas

Many contemporary artists use color as the visual language of artistic ecstasy. Fausto Fernandez, a Mexican artist now living in the U.S., places layer upon layer of color, embellishing his paintings with diamond dust glitter, to magnify and reflect the chromatic effect. Undeniably influenced by the festive use of color in Mexican culture, he collages colorful flowers; draws energetic lines with crayon, and his works emerge as a triumph of colorful beauty. Fernandez’s works were recently featured in the touring museum exhibition, Beauty Reigns:  Baroque Sensibilities in Contemporary Art.

Robert Townsend, "Cherry Blossom"
oil on canvas

Robert Townsend, "Oh Lolly, Lolly"
watercolor on paper

Like Fernandez, Robert Townsend uses explosive color and celebratory themes in his hyper-realistic watercolors. Candy and lollipops, polka dots, and modernist analog clocks, all express the child-like excitement of color.  Townsend’s colorful pop works are included in top museum collections such as the Getty Museum and the Frederick Weisman Art Foundation in California.

Jamie Brunson, "Kirmiz"
oil, alkyd on polyester, over panel

Brunson is more of a pure colorist, and she uses deep hues and bold shapes to achieve meditative transcendence. Brunson has received numerous art residencies, and her works are included in the American Embassy in Doha, Qatar, and museums throughout the U.S.

Jamie Brunson, "Sway"
oil, alkyd on polyester, over panel

Brenda Zappitell, "Sunset in Santa Fe"
cold wax, acrylic and flashe on panel

Contemporary artists, like artists since the beginning of time, use the universal language of color to communicate directly through our senses, on the most powerful level.