As an artist it is very difficult to feel like painting a pretty landscape is doing enough. I understand intellectually that beauty in itself can be life-changing, but it’s such a subtle thing to hang a picture above the mantle—it certainly sends the message that you care about quality and surrounding yourself with positive vibes, but does it help right the wrongs of our cultural past? Does it bring justice or equality? In the context of some of the big issues we need to address, silence only supports the aggressors, the abusers, but never the victim. I’ve always been passionate about my community, though as a middle-age, middle-class, white, straight male it’s a very precarious path to walk when you start to get involved with these important cultural issues. It’s precarious for one simple reason: I’m the problem. My peers and I need some self-care.
Recently I read that racism is not a black person issue, it’s a white person issue. For some reason the way it was phrased flipped the idea on its head for me. I’m white… I need to talk to my white friends about racism. The same could be said for an issue like homophobia: it’s not a gay issue, it’s a straight issue—but our lack of movement on the ‘straight’ side creates all kinds of genuine problems for the LGBTQ2S+ community. Unfortunately while we are thinking about it, mulling it over, and ultimately doing not-very-much-far-too-slowly, diversity flounders and black people die. The pressure is on and we need to start acting. We need to accelerate these conversations amongst ourselves so the good kind of peer pressure is evident.
In past columns I’ve been open with you about my struggles to create art through this strange time. As I learn more about the complex reasons behind my blockage, I’ve discovered that resplendent skies and weepy-boughed cedars weren’t inspiring me at this important time in our world—I wanted my art to stand and be counted. I want to be able to look my kids in the eye knowing that I was part of the solution, or at least the attempt.
To help navigate my foray into socially-conscious work, I enlisted the help of some experts who could help me make sure I avoided any rookie blunders—the last thing I want to do is clog up channels important for direct messaging from people on the front lines. One of my advisers suggested I look close to home to find what is needed in my community. A.J. Leibling famously quipped, “The freedom of the press belongs to the [person] who owns one,” which happens to be true in my case, but having the means of production is only part of the equation—having the words is another matter altogether.
Diversity is an issue that has recently grown to be very important in our family, as has our involvement with the Fernie Pride Society and I’ve learned a lot from getting to know the people involved. Working closely with a family member whose life is impacted by issues of acceptance, I decided to create a series of posters to support the visibility of Fernie Pride Festival. First I printed 30, then another 60, and just yesterday yet another 100 posters. If you walked into downtown Fernie anytime in late September you might have noticed a slough of rainbows in the windows—the result of an amazing outpouring of support and acceptance from downtown businesses. It was, I think, the pinnacle of my artistic career, and all I had to do was look around me, spot a need, and act.
We all need to hear these simple words: You are accepted—loved and supported and welcomed. The underlying story is that some people still have a harder time finding acceptance than others. When we can normalize acceptance we can reach the vulnerable and tired and suffering among us and help them safely to shore. It’s good, hard work, but it’s our world (and I’m speaking to my straight, white peers here) that sees the benefit: we get to live in a more vibrant, authentic culture.
Self-care is about looking at yourself and trying to figure out what you need to take yourself to the next level, then the same process applies to our community. If you’re wondering what to do, let me suggest the workout I’ve been going through: allow your mind to be rattled a bit, allow your heart to be stretched a bit. Look at the needs of your community and use your voice as an artist to work on change. Start somewhere—anywhere. Do something small. Act. It’s a long-game, but making these small changes means caring for everyone in our community. I’m going to continue painting the beauty I see around me, but now I will also be looking for ways to build a stronger world.