THE INSPIRATION PLACE PODCAST
Well, hello, this is your host, artist Miriam Schulman, and you’re listening to episode number 97 of The Inspiration Place Podcast. I’m honored that you’ve joined me here today. Now, when we began 2020, I remember hearing the metaphors of 2020 vision, but nothing could have prepared me for the awakening that we’ve all, let me just speak for myself, that I’ve experienced over the last four to five months, but I know I’m not alone. First of all, with the onset of the pandemic, all of us were driven indoors and forced to tighten the ranks of our family’s inner circle. For me, that meant lots of time with my husband, my two, mostly adult children, they’re 20 and 22. And at that age, we usually don’t get to spend that kind of time with your children. So for that, I am grateful, but all this time together, alone, and not going about and doing our other things, all of this time allowed for a lot of deep thinking and introspection.
It really set the stage for deeper clarity. I have never felt clearer about what I want with my art and what I want with The Inspiration Place and seeing my role in the world. I’m seeing it very differently now. It’s very similar to how in seventh grade, when I first got glasses and put them on, I was like, “Oh, that’s what the world looks like?” The pandemic set the stage for it, but then in early June with the death of George Floyd, my eyes were opened, not just to the issues of police brutality or not just systemic racism within society, but also how these effects of racism, sexism, antisemitism, basically all the isms, were fully at play in my life. And yeah, also in my art business.
In the beginning, I have to admit that I felt a lot of shame about that when I realized how I was part of this. But now, instead of feeling powerless, I am seeing opportunities everywhere to make a difference in the world, and the more I see, the more I see. This episode though, is not going to be about, hey, look at me, look at what I’m doing. Look what I plan on doing in my art business. I’m not about telling you, you will see changes though. I will show you over the next couple months, simply through my actions. You will see a difference, but I’m not going to tell you what that is right now because I don’t really want to shine a spotlight on what my actions are. I really want to shine a spotlight though, on the values that I uphold. One of my core values, of my core beliefs I should say, is that art makes a difference in the world. And I want to shine a very large spotlight on artists who use their art to make a difference in the world.
So in this episode, you’re going to discover how artists throughout history have used art to incite change and change minds. I’m also going to give you some particular specific examples of street artists who are splashing their passion in their neighborhoods and speaking out right now about police brutality. And I’m also going to share examples of how artists use their art to process pain. But before we get there, I do want to let you know that if you’re an artist who’s ready to make a steady, consistent income from your art that you can be proud of, but maybe you’re feeling like you’re spinning your wheels, or you’re confused about what to do next, and you’re not sure where you actually need to make it all work, I follow a specific process and I can share that with you.
If you want to work with me to attract high end commissions, sell your art and get more of your passion into the world, get more eyes on your art and actually make a sustainable living from it, I can help you with that. Not only can you overcome the overwhelm, but you’ll gain practical strategies and a clear way forward for implementing them. If you want to grow as an artist and profit from your art this year, the first step is to have a call with me. We’ll chat, we’ll see if working together is a good fit for you and I’ll answer questions about the program. But most importantly, I will share with you the steps you need to take from where you are now to where you want to go. That’s my promise that I give to everybody who jumps on a call with me, who qualifies. Go to schulmanart.com/biz. That’s B-I-Z. I’ve been listening to a lot of British people lately. So B as in boy, I as an ice cream and Zed as in zebra, okay. schulmanart.com/biz.
You just answer a few questions about yourself and if you qualify, you’ll get a free call with me and we’ll also talk about how we can work together. So let’s dive in to today’s topic. Art as activism is a huge topic. Huge. You could really have a whole podcast on it week after week after week. So I know that we can only scratch the surface today in a 30 minute, or however long this ends up being, podcast. What I want to do is start off by providing a little bit of historical context. People have used art to make a statement since the first humans were making their marks in the caves. While all art does make a statement, when I say activist art, we’re talking about art that makes a statement about politics or society, and actively addresses the power structures around us instead of just describing them.
With Bastille Day just around the corner one historical example that jumps out at me, thinking back to my art education, which by the way, I know I’m going to be giving a lot of examples of dead European white guys, but don’t worry, there will be plenty included of contemporary artists who represent a beautiful diversity. So, we’ll get there as well. But the first one that jumps out at me that comes to mind is Death of Marat. It is more just painting. If you’re not familiar, it’s by the neoclassicist artist David. You can see an image of the painting in the show notes, which today will be schulmanart.com/97. Now Marat was one of the leaders of the Montagnards, a radical faction… I’m sure I pronounced that wrong by the way. So he was one of the leaders of a radical faction during the French Revolution and Marat was murdered by a political enemy.
Now David was the leading French painter of his generation, truly. I mean, when you start off learning about 19th century art, which is where most of my art history education was centered on, that’s pretty much the first guy they teach you. And he was a prominent leader in that movement. The way he depicted Marat was dying in his bath tub. He depicted him as a political martyr using the same visual language of classical Christian art and references to Michelangelo’s Pieta, and Caravaggio’s Entombment of Christ. Now, rather than just make a small illustration like a toss away painting just to, okay, this is how I feel about this, I’m going to make something and post it on Instagram, I know they didn’t have Instagram then, but he could have made a small painting. Instead of making a small painting he gave this painting monumental quality in its five foot height.
So basically he made a life size depiction of the dying Marat. Now, the movement that he was supporting actually had copies of the painting made to be used as a rallying cry for the cause. So he was using his art, not just to express his views about how he felt about the death, but also to create change in the world, to get people on board with his values.
Today, we’re seeing this way of using art as activism play out in real time. So with the horrifying deaths of George Floyd and too many others, artists are painting the faces of these victims of police brutality on the walls so that people won’t forget, and we’ll be forced to reckon with their humanity. For example, there’s already a mural of George Floyd in Minneapolis, and that’s not all. In Baton Rouge, Louisiana there’s a grocery store where the shoppers walk by a mural depicting Alton Sterling, who was also killed by the police in 2016, and a mural of Amadou Diallo graces the building of a Wheeler Avenue building in the Bronx. That was the site where he was gunned down in, I think it was 91, 1991, again by police officers.
Often these murals are fleeting. If it’s a space where an artist can paint on the wall, then other people can paint over that same wall. So oftentimes these murals can be painted over or desecrated. The Diallo mural was actually painted twice in the same spot. That’s why the artists who organized themselves to paint the George Floyd mural are duplicating their efforts in other parts of the city. They’re repeating the same mural because they know that the murals could be temporary and they want to preserve it. Moreover, other outreach artists are painting their own murals across the country, and not just in our country, but across the world. What happened here in the US has really been a worldwide reckoning because racism doesn’t just happen here. Now in a movement that asks us to say their names, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, so many others, we say their names to humanize them. But what the artists are doing are helping us see their faces.
Cadex Herrera, one of the artists who worked on the mural said…
We needed to see his face. We needed to show that he was a human being.
Artists who paint these types of emotionally charged images recognize that this art can function to arouse anger or to calm. Joe Heinz, who created the Sterling mural in Louisiana shared in a recent interview with the New York Times that he decided to create a mural for Alton’s family.
It’s about honoring Alton. We know what happened to him, but allowing that person who has done wrong to live forever through a mural is a more powerful message.
Another famous example of an artist who used her art for activism is Frida Kahlo. She was working a long time before people started talking about feminist art. Her paintings explored questions of identity, gender, class, race, colonialism, as well as challenged society’s preconceptions of what ideal female beauty represented. That’s what I love most about Frida’s work is the way she questioned traditional Western norms of beauty. She depicted herself not as an assimilated American, but proudly as a Mexican with her famous uni brow, and even with a hint of facial hair. But in her hand, these traits became truly sensuous. She’s also an artist that painted in spite of a life filled with both physical and emotional pain. She suffered from polio as a young child, lost a leg later in life and she had several miscarriages. And you could say she lost a husband to his womanizing. Although that might be open for debate since she had a very, let’s say, free view on her own sexuality.
I’m not really sure what happened there, but yeah, she had a very difficult marriage. Now having suffered a miscarriage myself, I fully relate to that heartbreak. Those haunting images of her… There’s a painting called Henry Ford Hospital. We’ll put that in the show notes as well, again, schulmanart.com/97, make her portraits all the more haunting. Seeing the story played out in paint, the narrative, then when you actually see her self portraits that don’t include that additional imagery, it adds additional gravitas to those paintings. You know what that pain is behind those eyes that stare that she is sharing with you. Whether she includes the dead fetus and the blood or not her art is visceral.
Now about her art she shared, my painting carries with it, the message of pain. So if you’re finding yourself right now in pain, either because of the pandemic, the ongoing pain of social injustice, or really anything else, because we all know life keeps marching on. Truthfully, I have a lot going on right now in my own life. My husband’s stepmother just passed away. There’s a lot going on right now. A lot of us are in pain, the group pain that we’re all experience, our shared pain that we’re all experiencing right now through the world events or the private pains that we have because we’re humans having a human experience. But what I do know is that some of the greatest art of all time was also born from pain. Now, while Kahlo’s art was groundbreaking because of her feminist ideas, I want you to also know she was very active in the Mexican Communist Party. It was her husband, Diego Rivera, who at the time was the better known political artist.
He was quite famous when she met him, and they actually met through the Communist Party. Now, of course the art world has always heralded the art of men over that of woman so she wasn’t quite as known in her lifetime as her then much more famous husband, but I want to stay on the subject of dear Frida just for a moment longer, because I want to make sure we bring her out of the shadows. I could say a lot about her husband because he did do political art, and today’s topic is about art activism. But like I said, I want to bring her out of the shadows of the machismo Mexican culture that she was born into, because art critics mostly focused on the feminist side of her art. However, her art was very political. Like I said, she met her husband through her involvement in the Mexican Communist Party.
So if you look at Kahlo’s art, her political art includes art depicting the dichotomy between capitalism, commercialism and it depicts idealized communist values. So this was definitely a huge part of her art. And one of her last paintings was a tribute to Marxism. So you should know that that was a huge part of her art as well. Even when artists don’t actually paint their political values, they often become activists through their actions. Us artists are a very passionate group and we’re all about sharing our message with the world. Now, a well known example is the art critic and writer a Emile Zola. Emile Zola published an article that divided not just the arts community, but the entire country in 19th century France. A Jewish officer named Dreyfus in the French army was convicted of treason, but when evidence arose that actually another higher ranking officer was involved, the military decided to cover it up, Dreyfus took the blame instead.
So Zola wrote a now famous open letter to the president of France entitled J’accuse, which accused the French army of obstruction of justice and anti Semitism, and this divided the country. This was a very pivotal and important history in France, as well as a very important part of cultural history. Let me tell you, history remembers. History doesn’t forget. History remembers which artists stood up for injustice and which ones stood against it. Want to know? Monet, Pizarro who was Jewish, Proust and Zola were pro Dreyfus. Dreyfus was Jewish and many believe that the reason he was basically pinned for this crime was because of antisemitism. So those were the cultural elite who stood on his side and there were many others. Sadly, Degas and Cezanne were against, and history remembers this.
Now when I go to museums and I look at the art of Degas, my admiration for his paintings, I still can look at it objectively and see the beauty, but honestly, they’ve now become tainted with my feelings of betrayal for Degas’ fierce, antisemitist stance. I have trouble seeing a separation between art and the artists behind the art. The reason I have trouble with that is because as an artist, I know how profoundly and how interconnected my art is with me and my values and my own viewpoint. That doesn’t matter whether I’m painting animals or flowers, I know that I’m on that canvas. I know I’m on that paper. I know that my art is me. It’s all there, all the processed and unprocessed emotions that I’ve reckoned with and the emotions I haven’t reckoned with are all there. I know that.
That’s why I know with every cell of my body that silence during this current moment in time is not an option. Honestly, I regret the times I stayed silent in the last few years when I’ve had this podcast. I’ve shared with you, you’re going to be hearing more about my values because I regret when Kavanaugh was being confirmed. People were speaking out with the Me Too movement. I regret not speaking out then. That was an issue that was very important to me and I stayed silent. And when you are silent, you are complicit. I definitely feel that way during this Black Lives Matter moment. And let me just clarify, because I know there’s some confusion about what about all lives matter?
I just want to clarify why that is an insensitive thing to say. I’m not an expert on diversity. I’m not an expert on inclusion. So it’s hard for me to step in as a teacher in this moment, but because people were saying all lives matter on my social media feed, on my posts, in the comments, I need to address it. So basically it’s like, if someone’s house is on fire, if your house is on fire and somebody said to you, “Yeah, that’s sad, but all houses matter.” Your house isn’t on fire. This is the house that’s on fire. Or if you go to a breast cancer march and somebody says, “Yeah, but colon cancer matters too.” Do you see that? And if you don’t, there are plenty of teachers who can help you see that. But I just wanted to address that here simply because when I posted on blackout Tuesday, a square that I support Black Lives Matter and there were comments there.
And I know that if that’s what you were thinking, I know you’ve maybe thought you were coming from a place of love. I just feel responsible for speaking out why that is hurtful to other people, because I know you don’t want to hurt other people. All right. So silence is not an option. What’s also not an option is a watered down response. That’s why I’m saying what I think, what I’m saying what I feel on this podcast, why I’m sharing it with you, and I want to make sure my values are very clear and not a watered down response because I don’t feel that’s an option for me anymore.
As a white woman, and in case you haven’t guessed, as a Jewish woman, as a white Jewish woman, I know how closely white supremacy stands with its dangerous cousin, white male supremacy, and also with its other cousin Christian fundamentalists. I am fiercely proud of being a Jewish person. I’m fiercely proud of being a woman. And I want to also be proud of supporting people by becoming an ally and an anti racist. Jews have always stood by in these causes because we have also been a persecuted race. I’m fiercely proud of the rabbis who marched arm in arm with Martin Luther King in Selma, but I also recognize that as an American Jew, as a white person, I’ve been the beneficiary of decades of these racist policies.
As a beneficiary of that, it’s my responsibility to help change that and to help amplify more women of color, more people of color and help break down these barriers. When my mother’s second marriage fell apart, the four of us, I’m talking about my mother, my sister, my brother and myself. We moved in with my grandparents to Teaneck New Jersey, into their very small home. We were all squeezed in there. Teaneck was the first high school in the country to voluntarily integrate in 1965. By the time we moved into my grandparent’s home, that was the ’80s, the high school was fully integrated statistically, meaning that the enrollment numbers reflected a very diverse population of all ethnicities, but what I did notice is, and even from the beginning, was that although the enrollment numbers were fully integrated, the social life wasn’t, the honors classes weren’t.
The classes I took very few people of color in them. They weren’t much different probably from the ones my mother’s took when she went to the same high school in 1965. When you look at that, when I look at, okay, here was a high school that was 50% people of color why weren’t the most prestigious classes also 50%? I got to know, I got to reckon with that there was racism within play, even in this progressive high school.
So we’re going to turn back to art, but this is why I’m so passionate about this movement. I see the damage, I recognize and I acknowledge that as a white person, I have benefited from moving in through these things circles, that I’ve had basically better access to education then people who lived in my same town who had a different complexion than me. This is important to fix.
So I’ve given examples of fine artists, painters, who have used their art and writers like Zola who have used their writing. I wanted to also talk about a musician right now who is using his music to make change. And that is Jon Batiste. He is the jazz pianist, he’s a Julliard graduate and he’s The Late Show band leader. And he has been leading marches throughout the city and really stepping up in a big way, using his New Orleans heritage to use music as a rallying cry, using the same style of musical marching throughout the city. When I saw that article in the New York Times, he also, he’s been doing it all month long, but also he did a concert on Juneteenth. When I saw that article in the New York Times really highlighting it, it really moved me. And here’s what he had to say.
Now, I did use actors, I just want to admit that, for the prior quotes. I thought it would make a beautiful contrast between my Jewish, New York female voice and the voices of artists. Those weren’t the actual people who were being quoted, they were voice actors. I’m going to try to give the same kind of gravitas now to what people are saying about Jon Batiste, what he’s saying about what he’s doing now in this moment.
What’s really rare about what he’s doing is, there’s plenty of people who are leading street marches, but what’s really rare is to see a jazz musician who has a household name and a national platform like Batiste does, and what he’s doing is inviting them into the streets. What I was also moved by was what Colbert had to say about what Batiste is doing. So I’m going to quote Colbert here.
“In the present darkness that constitutes so much of the national conversation, Jon, by his example, and his spirit gives me hope that I might do my job and maintain my own humanity. I believe long after no one knows who I am, the name Jon Batiste will be spoken with admiration and I’m grateful to know him.”
It is that passion that I invite you as an artist to bring to your craft. I know that there’s people who listen to this podcast who are not just visual artists. I’m speaking to you as well. There are musicians and other creatives. Whatever your craft is, whatever your endeavor is, if it’s your business, if it’s music, if it’s writing, you can bring this same passion and this light to your art ever there is. One thing that Jon Batiste said when he was interviewed for this article is that there are three candidates that we’re dealing with. This is exact quote.
“There are three candidates that we’re dealing with. Donald Trump, Joe Biden, and the candidate of apathy. Apathy’s insidious. It comes from having a weight on our collective shoulders for centuries.”
And what is apathy? Apathy is silence. If that’s you, if you are somebody who is afraid to speak out, afraid of messing with the aesthetics of your Instagram, I’m inviting you to be brave and to speak what you think, even if it is that you disagree with me, because really the biggest enemy here is silence, is apathy. Now I want to bring some more examples of art activism to your consciousness. If you think about any social or political cause you probably can think of a work of art that’s been associated with it, from Picasso’s Geurnica, Goya did a lot of political art as well. And other art activists we can mention that are household names are Bansky.
But what I want to do is bring to your attention a few that you may not heard of. So there are three women that I want to bring to your attention and I’m bringing to your attention at the same time. I do feel a little badly that they’re being grouped in with this list, like this survey, because really each of these women that I’m going to mention and talk about really deserve their own episode. Like I said, this entire episode could be its own podcast, week after week, after week. I wanted to talk about this because I am just so passionate about what’s happening.
The first one I want to bring to your attention is Deborah Roberts. Now she was supposed to get her first solo show in Austin, but because of the pandemic, that show is postponed until January. The kind of art she creates, and we are going to link to her Instagram in the show notes, is she makes what are deceptively simple collages of young black girls. I’ve heard an interview with her where she talks about how she likes to do them with about eight years old. Sometimes she also does boys, but they are mostly little girls, and she’s exploring how they see themselves and how the world sees them. So for example, Facing the Rising Sun is a portrait of a 14 year old George Stinney, who was wrongfully convicted of murdering two white girls in South Carolina in 1944. He was executed. She painted him in his too big prison uniform.
Now, if you look at the evidence in that case, there was no way that this 14 year old could have dragged two little girls by himself into the forest. It’s kind of very similar, I would think, to the Zola, the Dreyfus affair, where somebody is wrongly accused. We know that the isms were fully at play here and she’s able to create a stunning piece of artwork that brings this story to our attention. But I also want you to look at her paintings of the little girls. She paints them with the collage. She paints these little girls with boxing mitts on. I would love to talk to her about why she does that, but I can imagine it’s really showing how they have to fight in this world.
By the way, I would love to have Deborah Roberts on this podcast. So anybody knows her and can make an introduction, I would appreciate that. And if you’re listening, Deborah, I love your art and I would love to do it full justice here on the podcast.
Another artist I admire. So, I grew up in, at least when I was in high school, in Teaneck. This artist lives in a neighboring town of that. Right now she lives in England, New Jersey, which is just over the border from Teaneck. Faith Ringgold. Now, she’s been an activist for most of her 89 years, and she’s confronted race relations in this country again and again, led protests to diversify museums, and she even went to jail for an exhibition she organized. Her art acknowledges history while subverting it like her large scale work American People series. That one is currently hanging at the MoMA and was inspired by Picasso’s Guernica. She also turned her Tar Beach series into a Caldecott winning picture book about the magic of urban rooftops and imagination. So Faith, if you’re listening to this podcast, I’d really love to bring you on as well someday. These people are on my dream list, by the way, of who I’d want to interview. Deborah Roberts, Faith Ringgold, and the third woman I’d like to interview is Bisa Butler.
So she has an exhibit in a museum right here, 20 minutes from me, it’s been closed due to COVID unfortunately. Bisa Butler makes astonishing quilt portraits of famous figures from black history, as well as unknown every day African Americans. She chooses fabrics to reflect the subjects’ life. I know that when she was at Howard University, she was very influenced to use primary colors like they do in Africa. So she’s telling the story of the African American side of the American life and she does it so beautifully. These are all figure paintings, just like Deborah Roberts work.
Now I can go on and on and on about different artists that I love. Truly talking about art history is my favorite topic. That’s why I majored in art history when I was in college. I was supposed to be an engineering major, but I took so many art history classes I wasn’t going to graduate unless I changed my major. But we talked about Frida Kahlo, David, and we talked about Faith Ringgold, Deborah Roberts, Bisa Butler, and also the musician, Jon Batiste, as well as the writer Zola.
Now, because a lot of art activists don’t see huge, popular success right away, if ever, I’m going to be sharing the Instagram accounts inside of the show notes so you can follow and support them. I love the idea of diversifying my Instagram feed with some of these artist’s works and I thought you might as well. So you’re going to find links to the ones that are alive, included the muralist, by the way, that we talked about. We’re going to share links to all of them in the show notes, which will be schulmanart.com/97.
All right, so we’re going to wrap up. If you’re an artist who is also passionate and committed to making your art a sustainable and thriving business, this is possible. But if you’re confused about what actually works and you need a plan to move forward, I can help you with that. Just go to schulmanart.com/biz. That’s B-I-Z. B as in boy, I as an ice cream, Z as in zebra. I’ll ask a few short questions so I can get to know your situation better and make sure that you’re ready for coaching with me and we’ll schedule a time to chat.
All right. We have a lot of exciting guests coming up. I’m always hesitant to tell you who’s coming up because many times I’m recording this and I have them scheduled on my calendar, but if I haven’t recorded it yet, I don’t know if they’re ever going to happen. But let me tell you, you’re not going to want to miss any of them. Really exciting. Authors, artists and speakers, all inspirational and you are not going to want to miss it. So make sure you hit the subscribe or the follow button in your podcast app and if you’re feeling extra generous, leave me a review. I know it can be a little tricky. I’m going to tell you how to do it.
What you need to do is search for the show, The Inspiration Place, scroll down, and then you’re going to see ratings and reviews. Basically it’s underneath available episodes. You kind of have to try to scroll up. It may not let you at first, and you scroll up, you hit the five stars and you have to scroll down a little bit more and click that link that says, write a review. So you put a title in there. You put in what you liked best about the show. And by the way, if you pop your Instagram handle at the end, so mine’s @schulmanart, yours is @ whatever it is. So if you pop that in at the end of the review, I’ll even give you a shout out over on my IG stories. Oh, and don’t forget, hit the send button.
All right, guys. Thanks so much for being with me here today. I’ll see you the same time, same place next week. Make it a great one.
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