by Dylan Thompson
20 April 2017
As soon as Donald Trump was inaugurated as the 45th President of the United States, reports started coming in detailing his administration’s plan to eliminate the National Endowment of the Arts (NEA). While more than an entire article could be devoted to denouncing this as a reprehensible idea, instead I want to focus on a concurrent event; on February 4th, I went to an exhibition at Light: Art + Design. The exhibition was a collaboration between Ryan-Ashley Anderson and Brooke Heuts, and though I know nothing of either artist’s personal connection to the NEA, they are both representative of why a society should hold art in the highest regard.
I understand that, for the most part, I’m delivering this sermon to the converted. If you’ve found yourself on the Ethos Intellectual Spaces Forum, you most likely already celebrate the arts. Nevertheless, despite our most altruistic intentions, our support for the arts often goes unsubstantiated. I can only speak for myself, but though I self-identify as an ally to the arts, this was the first time in my life that I had gone to a small gallery event to support local artists. For the first time, I spoke with artists I had never met about their art, their inspirations, their labor, and their goals.
Ryan-Ashley makes jewelry. It’s beautiful. I bought a pair of her earrings as I left the gallery. But, beyond their aesthetic quality, Ryan-Ashley’s creations carry with them a broader purpose. She creates with a vision of sustainability, and so every piece is invested with the material’s history and Ryan-Ashley’s extensive labor. She estimated she had put in 45 hours to produce the 18 rings she had on display, each completely handcrafted and made of salvaged materials. By forefronting this process, Ryan-Ashley hopes to help people see the pervasiveness of art in their daily lives. Though she admires the art-décor movement, she said she likes the idea of people rethinking art as functional beyond adorning.
The same ethos is evident in Brooke Heuts’s art. Brooke sews and sells her art in the form of pillows and similar objects, highlighting the symbiotic relationship between art and the material objects that make up our daily lives. However, the centerpiece to her exhibition was a piece called “Remnant Shop,” in which she tacked up plastic bags containing scrapped pieces of fabric. Brooke described the piece as being inspired by her hard time throwing anything away and her fascination with “what’s in the drawers.” The piece is simple in concept but grand in scope, acting as a “history of [Brooke’s] making.” Like with Ryan-Ashley, the piece makes one think about the labor and materiality of art. It necessitates a direct confrontation with the art, and it requires an active rather than passive relationship with art as a process.
All of this is to say that now is a better time than ever to start thinking about art and artists. Consider the way art impacts your daily life and consider the work that went into the art you cherish. Imagine your life without art. For me, art moved past entertainment and aesthetic joy. Instead, I thought about the buildings I walked into, the food I ate, and the entirety of the world around me. With that perspective, I reimagined the people around me as cocreators, and my place within the human ecosystem became clearer. We can do a lot of good petitioning our government officials to prioritize the promotion of arts in their legislation, and we can do the same good by taking an active role in supporting the artists in our community. Check out Ryan-Ashley’s artwork at www.smartandbeckercreative.com/ and Brooke’s work at www.greygoodsstudio.com. Or go visit Light: Art + Design. Or support other local artists you know. Just go out and do it.
Dylan Thompson is a PhD student in the Department of English and Comparative Literature at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.