|A painting by one of the people being helped by Opening Minds through Art.|
|A work by a child in Suzanne Nall's class at Parker Woods Monesourri.|
|The title-plate for William Blakes books of poems.|
On Monday I met with Professor Elizabeth Lokon, the founder of Opening Minds through Art. OMA's mission (from their website) states: "In OMA people with dementia build close relationships with trained volunteers, staff, or caregivers in small groups... to make beautiful works of art that rely on imagination, not memory."
We usually "embellish" our bimonthly shows with shows that expand on the main theme, and for the one coming up in June (opening 6/28/2013), "INNCE/EXPCE: New William-Blake-Inspired Works by Emily Brandehoff and Robert McFate," we are going to curate an ancillary exhibit featuring the collaborative works by some of the people involved in OMA, as well as works by kids from Suzanne Nall's art class at Parker Woods Montessori a few blocks down from Thunder-Sky, Inc. The idea is to juxtapose the art of "innocence and experience," and to find a sort of dreamy association among people at both ends of the "innnocence/experience" spectrum, and how what they make intermingles in uniquely poetic ways.
As I pull together this little show I want to be very careful, because as is usual with any art show that features art made by different kinds of people the territory is rife with meanings and misnomers you almost have to shake hands with prior to doing anything. Professor Lokon seemed a little anxious about the prospect of the art made by the folks in her program being exhibited next to the art of children. It somehow sends a message that we aren't taking the works seriously. We are though. Very seriously.
The main reason I want to juxtapose works by children and older people is pretty obvious: to correspond with Blake's binary, in a sort of sweet and point-blank way. But I also wanted to do this small show as a tribute to what art means and can do for people who don't consider themselves artists. The kids in Suzanne's class probably aren't thinking about their next show at the Whitney, and the folks in Opening Minds through Art are trying to find a new way to think and feel and remember that goes beyond "memory," using their imaginations as a way to supplement, or even supplant, what's missing. I love all these works because they serve a purpose beyond my seeing them. As the kids learn to manipulate materials, they fashion finished moments they can claim as their own. The older people, being supported by Opening Minds through Art because they have dementia, are relearning that same process in a collaborative way -- art as a way to reinvent who they are and who they were in order to find some peace, a space where they exist in the present, but can somehow access meanings and emotions that go beyond it.
One of the most cited quotes in William Blakes' vast repertoire of quotes is this one: "If the doors of perception were cleansed everything would appear to man as it is, infinite."
That is what art is doing for these artists, opening up doors they did not know were there, onto self-made vistas. Their art somehow allows us to experience those moments of infinity as well.
The poems Blake wrote in "Songs of Innocence and of Experience" have that same sense of predestined beauty, of works of art made to find a place beyond "real," and yet anchored by their simplicity and grace to reality and to us as readers. In the works in both books of poetry, Blake finds epiphanies and music in the simplest of moments: a baby in a cradle, a lamb in the field, a little girl and a little boy getting lost and then getting found. These tropes have a fairy-tale glimmer but also a Bible-story resonance. You read them like lullabies, but something else is occurring within what you thought was just a song. Meanings flutter past like a bird's wings you don't see, only feel, a slight rush of wind that somehow lets you return to memories you didn't even know were there.
Blake was born on November 28, 1757 and died August 12, 1827. Most of his life he lived in obscurity, creating masterpiece after masterpiece, illustrated poems and books that spiral out of control, and yet there's never any chaos. Blake used his art to teach himself how to escape the constraints of art and society, to make something new, in much the same way the kids in Suzanne's class, and the elderly folks in Opening Minds through Art use art as a way to learn and relearn who they are and what they once were and can be. They are illustrating their lives, creating meaning with the simplest of materials, and the by-product of this search is the works we see: art with a purpose, and yet still something beautiful to behold.