We're still here
“Just draw what first comes to your mind,” my second grade teacher Ms. Gyurki said as she whirled around the room, handing out blank pieces of printer paper and old apple juice tins filled with markers. We sat in groups of four, and I remember looking up and seeing Colin, all round glasses and cowlicked bangs, blinking at me. So I grabbed a lemon-yellow marker and started working out that hair.
It is paramount for artists to depict what they know. Our job is documenting our time in human history, whether intentionally or not.
I often think of art as a barometer, gauging both what the population currently feels and what it aspires to in the future. In more certain times – the ‘50s, for example – North American artists were painting Rockwellian landscapes – a term which stems from painter Norman Rockwell’s iconic scenes of the good American life. They’d show what went on inside their homes, families with perfectly coifed hair, hoop skirts and teak record players. It was a stable, happy time for them, and so their art was reflective of that.
Right now, we seem to be in aesthetic purgatory, craving both superficial and authentic perfection.
On one hand, we have women contouring their faces, literally painting their bone structure on to fit an ideal of beauty carved out by the industry.
And on the other, a groundswell towards true authenticity, towards showing people stripped down.
I was flipping through a fashion magazine a few weeks back and one headline read “Non-hair” in a crisp, minimalist, blank font. It was about the trend of models wearing no makeup and having their hair fall naturally on the runway. Think American Apparel ads.
Similarly, in the realm of fine art, we see photographers starting to capture raw moments between people or unrefined landscapes. We see rough, choppy collage, pronounced brushstrokes, shaky pencil lines, exposed pipes and brick.
The representation of real life in art is, no doubt, a direct response to the artificial life that we’re able to mold with technology. Digital platforms like social media and photo editing software allow us to groom our identity so precisely that what we present to the world is just a pixel of what life in full colour actually looks like.
How we’re choosing to express ourselves as a whole right now – airing towards vulnerability – will accurately depict the sentiment of our generation: searching for a way to connect with one another, to preserve the humanity in the rapidly changing social landscape. We want them to remember that we’re still here. That we’re still all round glasses and cowlicked bangs, even if now we’re blinking at a screen.