Thursday, October 18, 2007

Is Art Really Important?

St. Petersburg, Florida is a great place to live. The weather is great. The city is smallish and the crime rate is low. St. Pete is situated on a peninsula with Tampa Bay on one side and the Gulf of Mexico on the other. Tourists flock here. If you go to any one of the many tourist areas and listen, you will realize it is like a southern tower of babble. You hear all languages and dialects. Besides “Snowbirds” (Americans from the north who come to Florida for a season) and the global tourists, St. Pete is also host to another population: the homeless. People who don’t have a place to lay their head often come here. The days and nights aren’t as harsh as northern climates if you have to live outside. The economy and community is mostly middle or upper class. That offers some comfort to get handouts or community services.
A few weeks ago, I volunteered to work at a daylong event to help the homeless. Since I work with special education students and most of them are economically challenged, nothing was shocking or surprising. As I watched the lines of people straggle in for services, I just watched and thought. One of the things that struck me was an announcement made on the PA as homeless clients shuffled from one service to another. The speaker on the intercom kept reminding people of health, food, medical, and employment services available to them this day. As the announcement kept running and repeating, I thought, “Art has no place in their lives.”
If you are familiar with Maslow’s Hierarchy, you will understand where my head’s at when I ponder the frivolity of art.

Click to Enlarge

If you look at this chart to see the hierarchy of human needs, you will notice that most of the services offered mentioned on the PA rest on the lower portion of the pyramid. However, if you really look at the chart, you will see the “homeless” could very well rise up to at least half of the top tier. Physiological, safety, love, and esteem are all a part of everyone’s life. Even the homeless have a certain type of community code. Very often, they have respect for each other, as well as themselves in their own ways. In fact, I believe there are many who have reached the “Self Actualization” stage. Depending on the individual, some do have problem solving skills, their own code of morality, and acceptance of the facts of their lives. Some even have their own means to express their creativity. Years ago, I was preparing a show titled “Song of the Snowbird”. I wanted to capture my first impressions of my new, tropical home. I went around the city photographing and writing about my “St. Petersburg” experience. I will never forget when I met a homeless person downtown. Sitting on a park bench together, we talked for a while. I told him I was an artist collecting information for an art show. He said proudly “I AM AN ARTIST!!”. He pulled out his wallet and showed me his drawings sketched on business card size paper. I took a photo of him with his “portfolio” spread out like a hand of playing cards. That pic was in the exhibition.
As I watched the lines of people waiting to see the volunteer doctors and government agency administrators, I just wondered. How does my ART life relate to any of this? Is ART really all that important?? What do you think?
9” X 15”


Anonymous said...

Hi Sheree - I thought you might be interested in this program in Austin, TX. There is an ongoing program for homeless artists and an annual exhibit of work, with profits going to the artists.

I enjoy your blog.

artist living in Austin, TX

Sheree Rensel said...

Thank you so much for the link and heads up about this program. I will check it out!

Anonymous said...

Over 20 years ago one of my best friends (or so I thought) told me that art was a luxury, not a necessity and that art was selfish.
I felt like I had never really known her. And she had never really understood me. I lived in a bomb shelter in the Mission in order to do what I wanted (make art). She ate and lived much better than me.

Maybe she still does. But it wasn't until a few years later that I realized she had married an architect-to-be who was really a frustrated artist. She put him through school, too. Maybe that is where it all came from.

Here in Portland there is an organization called p;ear who helps homeless youths in many ways - the major one being art and art making.

It is an essential act and an essential fact.


Sheree Rensel said...

I totally understand where you are coming from. I guess I am still trying to understand how all the puzzle pieces fit together. This is why I asked "Is Art Important?" If you read between the lines of my post, I think I was thinking about the "ordinary" people and how art fits into their lives. Yet in the background of my mind, I was thinking about all this art sales, art marketing, art business, art notoriety, art personality, etc. I don't think I am explaining myself well here.
In other words, I realize creativity is a human thing. We all have it. ART however has turned into something more than creativity. In the art world I live in, "ART" is considered a luxury. I think this is another "process vs. product" issue.