You Can’t Kill Art

Artist: Mary Negron

So I was reading an op ed the other day prompted by a rumor that Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin planned to defund the Kentucky Arts Council in his first budget. As it turns out, the Arts Council budget survived, although funding was cut by nine percent.

The author of the original op ed piece, Kentucky poet Maurice Manning, wrote about visionary printer Victor Hammer. He fled Nazi Germany in the ’40s when Hitler tried to eliminate art as part of his reign’s efforts at suppressing culture. Hammer landed in Kentucky and became a big part of the creation of a culture in Lexington that attracted other artists, an “influx” of sorts.

This got me thinking.

We see this a lot, don’t we? Some of the recent insanity in the Middle East has led to the destruction of art and culture. Fascists and zealots and fanatics try to kill art all the time. It’s a tactic employed throughout history, a first step toward subjugating a people, because the artists are usually among the first to challenge and question authority.

Sumi-e Koi
“Sumi-e Koi”
Artist: Mary Negron

Here’s the thing I decided, though. No matter how hard you try, you can’t kill art.

Let me say that again.

You can’t kill art.

Not in a culture or a person or a race or a country. You can’t.

When you bring your heel down on it, like Hitler did, you don’t smash it. You break open a seed pod, and the seeds spread out and away. Like Victor Hammer coming to Kentucky and helping to launch a whole new arts culture there. I don’t have a list, but that got me wondering how many places how many other people forced to flee Nazi Germany landed. How many other arts cultures, conclaves, influxes – whatever – were started in these places by these people Hitler attempted to suppress.

Warrior 3
“Warrior 3”
Artist: Suzy Schultz

And how ironic it is that Hitler didn’t kill art. He couldn’t. He could only spread it.

I’ve no doubt if some artists depending on the funding in Kentucky were forced to leave the state, had it been cut entirely, they wouldn’t have stopped making art. Being artists.

No, they would’ve spread out. To Tennessee and Ohio. To Indiana and Missouri and Georgia.

Because you can’t kill art.

My wife is a painter, and she recently returned from a trip to Marco Island for a painting workshop. One of her favorite quotes from the instructor was that we artists are “tenderized.” We get beat up a lot, told our work has no merit, receive subtle – and not so subtle – suggestions we should quit.

Artist: Mary Negron

I’ve had this experience myself. More than a few people have gone out of their way to make negative comments about my work to me, some without even reading it. All artists experience this. These people exist; it hurts when they speak up. A few times, I’ve even taken a little break after hearing from one of them.

But I always come back to my art, to my writing. Because you can’t kill it in me.

My work hasn’t always touched as many people as I would like it to, but I keep pushing forward, undaunted. Trying new things, being an artist. Pursuing my artistic goals.

And now I have a new goal. I want to spread art.

Last year, I helped my wife and several others write a grant proposal for a children’s art festival. We’ve got lofty goals. A full day of painting and music and writing and theater activities, for kids of all ages.

We were awarded the grant.

Hotel Bloom Lobby in Brussels, Belgium
Hotel Bloom Lobby in Brussels, Belgium

So now our event is this real thing. It will be held in April. If you follow this blog or me on Twitter or Facebook, I’ll announce more details when they’re available. I know at minimum I’ll be leading the writing portion and I’m really excited about that. I’ve even started to plan out the sessions and some other folks have had some great ideas for writing-related booths we’ll have on hand as well.

The thing is, I keep getting a little thrill imagining the next JK Rowling or JJ Abrams might come, and be inspired to create, to let their own unique art light shine, by this little event they went to as a kid. Or maybe a kid who becomes an engineer or a doctor, but harbors a lifelong appreciation of art because of the exposure we give them to it.

In the Garden
“In the Garden”
Artist: Mary Negron

Maybe, either way, we’ll never know. I sort of love that, the idea of sending bottles with little art messages in them out into the ocean, never sure who might be on the other end or how they’ll receive their discoveries.

Here’s what I think I know for sure, though.

I think, once that seed of art appreciation grows in you, it’s hard to kill.

Impossible, even.

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