Show, Don’t Tell

World War III, Day Two
copyright 2018, Molly Larson Cook
Acrylic on canvas
20″ x 16″

This painting was done three years go and is one of the unplanned paintings that come out of nowhere but speak to me in loud voices.

I remember the day I painted this one – or at least the day I finished it. It was not a day with war raging anyplace around me, nor was it raging in my head, although there’s almost always a war somewhere.

And I also remember my sense of recognition that came the moment the title shot through my mind. Of course, no question, World War III. Day Two. For the last many years, there has so often been the threat of World War III, a threat that began almost the minute World War II was over.

People often ask, “Where do you find your ideas?” My only answer is that my ideas find me. It’s not so much that I get ideas. It’s more that my ideas get me. There’s no arguing with them. None.

If I had set out to paint something titled “World War III, Day Two,” I’m not sure what the result would have been. I’m not even sure I could have done anything with that idea at all. I could have put paint on the canvas, to be sure, but that’s technique, not art. Not inspiration.

Nor can I put in words my feelings about a possible World War III.

So much for intentionally creating something new or provocative. So much for mastering the techniques when you haven’t mastered the concepts.

How would you, for example, paint “World War III, Day Two”? That’s your prompt for today.

And why would you paint it?

Today, this week, these last few weeks many of us feel more and more that we are embattled with Covid, with protests, with weather, with the economy and neighbors fighting neighbors. With challenges through each and every day. It’s not World War III, but the pressures are sometimes great.

Are you painting any of this? Does your world feel somewhat like World War III? Have you chosen to ignore it all? It’s not ignoring you.

Art and Life operate hand in hand. They ignore nothing.

I’m not a protest artist. I leave that to others who have bigger axes to grind. But I’m alive. I feel the pain of the world, and I once tried to paint it. None of it came out well.

And I’ll cop to it. I’m not a big fan of deliberate protest art either. I’m more in line with movie mogul Sam Goldwyn who once said, “If you want to send a message, call Western Union.”

But I do like the idea of provocation in art. One of the best examples is Picasso’s “Guernica” which spoke of the horrors of war in a different way.

From Bayles & Orland: “Provocative art challenges not only the viewer, but also its maker. Art that falls short often does so not because the artist failed to meet the challenge, but because there was never a challenge there in the first place.”

The challenges are both seen and unseen. Felt and unfelt. But we know them when we experience them. Every time. I do believe this applies to every creative activity – art, music, dance, theatre, writing, wood carving, sewing a quilt, making an apple pie, fixing an old Buick.

As author Jerzy Kosinski once put it: “The principle of true art is not to portray, but to evoke.”

“Provoke” and “evoke” are both based on the root “voice” – to call out, to call attention to.

Protest on the other hand is largely about being against or opposed to something.

The difference is day and night. Light and dark. Make your artistic choices.

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