Art is subjective. What moves and touches one leaves another cold. Where I see beauty, you see chaos, and vice-versa. What we cannot disagree on, however, is the process of art, how it is created, or what its author went through to bring it out, because most of the time, when we are looking at works of art, we do not know that story.
I spent some time at RAW Art in Lynn yesterday with its founder Mary Flannery, looking at art and hearing the stories of the artists. I watched second graders, who I was told were severely learning-disabled, painting cardboard tubes that would soon be caterpillars, with an intensity I cannot recall seeing anywhere else lately. An alumnus visiting while on college break created an origami dragon, complete with wings and horns and spiked tail, from a piece of 4″ memo pad paper. There is no fear of messing up at Raw; their mantra is “no mistakes, just art.”
Life should be lived like that, intensely and fearlessly. Too often, we get sidetracked or worse by events and impacts outside of our control. We become distracted, afraid of making a misstep. And we lose our focus, growing lazy in how we approach and manage our lives. I have been having an ongoing debate with myself and others about whether it is better to be kind and thoughtful or whether it would be better to be the big honking a-hole who makes a stink and gets all the attention and usually their way.
While I think it is always better to be kind, I will concede that it is getting more difficult to believe that and even harder to continue acting appropriately in the midst of a maelstrom of rudeness and selfishness. But in the end, I believe that you get what you give.
What the kids that participate at Raw Art get is a safe haven, caring guides, and opportunity. What they give is themselves, their thoughts and feelings, on canvas, on film, in sculpture. And out of that comes joy and beauty. After a week during which my kindness gene was sorely tested and I was disappointed in people many times over, I felt joy as I watched the second graders; I saw beauty looking at the exhibit mounted in Raw’s first floor gallery space.
Mary showed me one young woman’s project, a long rectangular box-like totem symbolizing a moment in her life that had permanently changed her. Mary told me her story, a scared young girl new to this country, who spoke little English, and a teacher who started every day by asking her to go to the chalkboard and write the word she dictated, and then mocked her for her misspellings. The box commemorated the day that the young girl finally spelled a word correctly and in that moment vowed that she would not be bullied again–by anyone. The word was “lucky.”
At home later, I was excited about becoming involved with Raw, and so happy to have met Mary Flannery, who I think will be a great good friend. I then read my horoscope in the newspaper. It said, “Emotional attunement will lead you somewhere lucky.”