The Role of Artists, Here and Now

During the pandemic, I was fortunate to have my career as an artist to fall back on. Painting in the studio was an escape. I tried new things, including making paintings within layers of resin. I served as a expert consultant for a book on helping at home caregivers take care of family members with cancer. I joined three different art galleries, which provided me with opportunities to meet other artists, and exhibit my art.

In this manner, it was a productive time.

The Wreckage of the Peter Iredale watercolor and ink by Julianna Paradisi 2019 (sketchbook)

One of the gallery exhibitions I participated in was Here and Now, hosted by Playground Gallery, a group of artists and students from our local art college where I earned a Certificate in Fine Arts. Besides exhibiting several paintings, I was asked to give an artist talk. Below is an excerpt from my talk.

It’s going to take time for society to recover from the pandemic. Not only its residual effects on the economy and its toll on personal lives, but already we’re seeing the results of profound change. People are reluctant to give up working from home. Many are retraining for other means of employment. The way we always did things before the pandemic doesn’t seem to work anymore.

I feel that some of these societal changes have deeper roots beyond the pandemic. The energy of our society has shifted. Yes, we are polarized politically, but I feel this has to do in part with the collision of two ages: the outgoing vestiges of the Industrial Revolution, and the incoming age of Globalization. When I think of this shift, I picture the Bar in Astoria, Oregon where the mighty Columbia River meets the Pacific Ocean. 

The Columbia River Bar is the world’s most dangerous entrance to a major commercial waterway.

I think this might be the role of the artist in society, Here and Now. We help society cross the Bar, into a new era. Healing from trauma and navigating profound change does not occur in a straight line. There are good days, and days that aren’t so good. But like the pilots that board those huge freighters in Astoria, guiding them to safe harbor, artists are often the first to explore and present new ideas to a changing and troubled world.

In the past, artists responded to the horrors of WWII, including the manifestation of our newfound ability to annihilate ourselves with the atomic bomb, by creating Abstract art. The world no longer made sense so artists developed a visual language to make sense of the chaos. Artists contributed to society’s ability to adapt to modernism, with visual art, poetry, and music. Art brings meaning to the struggles of our humanity.

One important truth I discovered during the pandemic shut down, is that as an artist, I’m not simply looking for walls to exhibit my art on. I’m seeking, I’m hungry for, an exchange of ideas,  and conversations with other artists, painters, poets, and musicians. I long to leave the echo chamber of my own mind. Zoom conferences and virtual meetings can inform, but they do not provide the essence of art and human interaction. Because of this, I believe brick and mortar galleries, museums, and schools will survive. We need them.

Here and Now, I am back to the beginning, when, as a nurse completing my Certificate in Fine Art, I asked the question, “Does everything happen for a reason, or, is life just a series of indeterminate events? I still don’t know the answer. The question is unanswerable. But through my dual careers of nurse and artist, I do know there exists the possibility of good rising up from bad experiences. Our stories of struggle can serve as guides for those on similar paths. Our advocacy creates opportunities for those suffering inequity. Every kindness bestowed to others brings healing. 

This is the role of artists in a world in desperate need of healing. Here and Now.

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