The Transformative Power of the Arts
I joined the board at River Arts a year ago because I believe that art is the catalyst of positive change in communities, large and small. As an actor I have witnessed, first hand, the transformative power that art can hold. I have performed as a blue man in the show Blue Man Group roughly 4,000 times over 12 years. The character is one that observes the audience and tries to understand how to make this group of strangers a micro-community, if only for an hour and a half. Because of this observational task I was allowed the privilege to witness audience members’ faces soften throughout the show and change from apprehension to pure joy. I am also a cartoonist and have had a couple cartoons published in the New Yorker. Humor in art is transformative because it gives us new perspectives and tools to comprehend difficult and complex subjects (much like the tumultuous political climate we are in right now).
Two years ago I moved to Johnson with my family to teach theater at Johnson State College and I see the transformative power of the performing and visual arts everyday with my students there. Whether it’s uncovering another layer of nuance in Shakespeare’s words or a new approach to a character written by a classmate, I get the inspiring vantage point of seeing these students discover new parts of themselves through art.
Since we moved to the area I was on the lookout for arts organizations that celebrated all ages, all disciplines, and all abilities. Of course, I quickly (and thankfully) found River Arts. In thinking of the transformative power of art I am brought back to the most recent event I attended at River Arts this past Friday called ART 100. The four walls in the upstairs hall were covered top to bottom with original works donated from local artists. There were over two hundred people in attendance with each pair of us waiting for our number to be called. Depending on when your number was up you were able to claim your first, or secondary choices and go home with the piece at the end of the event. The energy in the room was palpable. Strangers and old friends circled the room pointing out which works were their top picks and why. We were able to meet many of the artists and talk to them about their work and their lives. There were representational paintings, photographs of Vermont landscapes, abstract pieces, and even a basket of felted animals. Burgeoning artists, craftspeople, and highly successful career artists all shared space in this hall. What I loved about this event was the fun of being able to pick a piece to take home enlivened and heightened the analysis and discussion of all of the work. Not everyone knows what to say about art when they walk into a museum but everyone has an opinion about what they like and why. This gave a wonderful grounding to the conversations that night even though we were talking about imagery and allusions that are sometimes hard to grasp and articulate. Another thing I loved was I was able to get my first pick: John Sargent’s cropped painting of clouds entitled, “Smoke Screen.” I see the painting as a nice analogy to the power of art as a whole: the image is so cropped that if you are standing close to it you might think that it is an abstract painting but when you stand far enough away it looks like a square porthole cut out of our house, looking to a sky that we might be floating in. This small painting has done the impossible; it has pushed my house up into the stratosphere where dirigibles and rocket ships reside.