From Ideas to Art:  An Exploration

Like art, revolutions come from combining what exists 

into what has never existed before.                                                        

                  -Gloria Steinem

By Phoebe C. Godfrey

Writing for Neighbor’s paper, I often meet people who read my work and appreciate what I have to say (I just met a reader at Ledgecrest Greenhouse).  To those people I would like to extend an invitation to my upcoming art show at the Kerri Gallery in Willimantic.  Many may not know that I also paint / create art and that I see my art as a way of exploring similar ideas that I do in writing but doing so from a more ‘right brained’ approach.  A fascinating TED Talk that I share with many of my classes is called My Stroke of Insight by Jill Bolt Taylor (she also went onto to write a book of the same title), wherein Taylor describes her experience having a stroke on the left side of her brain.  She lost the ability to speak (temporarily) but instead found herself feeling like the “life force of the universe” by having her right side of her brain dominate (the sides / hemispheres are not separate but are linked by the corpus coliseum, but they do have different areas of specialization).  At the end of her talk (and I assume, also her book) she proposes that as a culture we need to spend more time experiencing life from our right hemisphere and less time organizing, separating and compartmentalizing everything as we do use our left hemisphere.  I agree and in fact this was what led me to learning to paint over 20 years ago. 

I began painting in graduate school while studying sociology as I found the emphasis at the time on my ‘left brain’, endless reading writing and critical analysis, called for a way to balance myself by using my ‘right brain’.  I was at the time inspired by something Gloria Steinem said in her book Revolution from Within: A Book of Self-Esteem (1992) and so I began painting (I was also dating a painter at the time who also encouraged me).  In her book, as with her quote linking art to being like a revolution, she further recognizes the role that art can play in advancing our self-esteem.  In my own case, I had always wanted to paint but felt if I did it would change me in ways I was not ready to experience.  But eventually I picked up a brush, signed up for classes at the Art Students League (ASL) in New York City and have continued ever since.  Consequently, the ‘revolution from within’ did happen, which in my case involved leaving my then male artist boyfriend for my first female girlfriend–something else that I have also continued pursuing ever since (as in having women partners). 

After 5 years at the ASL and a completed Ph.D., I left New York for my first tenure track job in Laredo, Texas.  Since I no longer had access to models, I started making copies of paintings from past masters, while taking liberties to reinterpret the paintings in order to say something about me as well as the artists that was both original and provocative. As a sociologist and an artist, I have sought to weave together the past and the present, inviting viewers to see their own lives through a more temporally expansive lens and to contemplate how their lives might be interpreted by others in the future.  My recent series on revisioning the Book of Genisis comes out of my teaching on climate change and environmental destruction and aims to invite viewers to question in deep ways how our cultural stories are contributing to our self-destructive behavior.  I think the arts are essential to helping cultures reexamine their values and to do so in ways that invite people to explore new ideas–their inner revolutions–in ways that can be more transformative than with merely left brain rational ‘facts’. 

The title of this show From Ideas to Art:  An Exploration comes from my process that, as a sociologist, begins with an insight into or a question about (and usually both) our society that I then seek to translate into an artistic image or creation. 

My show will be on display from April 2nd to May 31st, with the opening reception on April 4th from 5-7p.m.  I will be there then and welcome talking to viewers, as well as hearing any kind feedback via email.  

Finally, we will be giving out buttons at the reception that say: “Turn Ideas Into ART” – may it be so!

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