I walk into the wide room, art in all shapes and sizes affixed to the wall. The pieces are from children, renowned artists, and visitors to the MoMA PS1 exhibit. Tacked up like giant boards of color, paint, pencil, and shapes, the room opens up on either side, where people sit to create an image for submission to the exhibit.
Underneath an artwork, a white rectangle sits, signed earnestly by the contributor, pledging in bold black ink:
“I promise never to make art again.”
“The personal journey for most artists starts with enthusiasm and joy, and ends, if the artist does not have huge success, in embarrassed children taking their dead parents’ work to the dump.”
Bob and Roberta Smith are making a call to artists currently at MoMA PS1 in Queens through their exhibit Art Amnesty. They are calling people to bring in art they never want to see again and/or leave their last piece of art on the walls, tacked up with the pledge to pack it in.
“I Promise To Never Make Art Again provides a baptism of necessary real life and allows artists to ‘Get Real’. Ditch a life of poverty and precarious self-employment! Don’t miss a life-changing opportunity.”
Conversely, the Smiths call for a final pledge:
“I will encourage children to be all they can be. Choose art at school.”
So, where does that leave art; are children the only allowed purveyors?
Fifth grade art class was a pure joy for me. I learned how to draw a face in proportion for the first time, and couldn’t believe the eyes were actually in the middle of the oval, as opposed to the upper half. I was exposed to charcoal and pastels and loved learning the shading techniques.
In middle school, the love was nourished through more mediums and textures, and while my clay mug came apart in the kiln, I felt most at home with pencil or charcoal in hand.
My childhood was an ocean of creative expression, and much of it was encouraged in school. From the pencil to the pen, to my dance shoes, scripts, and choir folders, I was nourished and fed.
Creative writing assignments turned into flowing stories on lined paper, my pencil requiring another sharpening from the use. As my childhood fingers adapted to the permanent indentation on my fourth finger’s knuckle, I entered my teenage years and found the holy grail of expression, poetry.
When my eleventh grade English teacher drew a chalk circle on the tile floor and proclaimed this was the “Poet’s Circle”, I knew with all my heart I wanted to jump in, paper and pencil in hand.
Why a pledge to never make art again, yet encourage it to continue in children? What happens when the child becomes an adult?
Worth and value, or the definition of it.
My refrigerator has been a gallery of rainbows and superheroes, lovingly given by my nieces and nephews, and friend’s kids. In the moment the crayon and stickers made contact with the crisp paper, the child was creating from a place of purity. The art was an offering.
The expectation went no further than the expression of their story.
As a child the value was made up of the actual translation, the scrawling with lips bit, and the elation of passing it on to my parent, aunt or family friend. And for me as the adult receiver, in placing a magnet over the latest unicorn fantasy, I was a collaborator in the exchange, and now possessed a colorful reminder of my own indented knuckle.
In an adult artist, where does the poverty begin?
Words can be thrown out like bank account, rent, and bills, but the shift occurs on a deeper level that bleeds into the process, once so pure as ripping the page from your favorite coloring book. Tied down with expectation of purely monetary success, how does this affect the art as a whole?
Poverty comes in many forms, not just economically. Poverty shows up in our mindset, and flows into our actions. If we come from a place of believing we don’t have enough, then we will cling and attach to all in our path and close our offering unless our predetermined demands are met. And if we believe we are not enough, then what could be created from this place, but something starving for attention, crying out in jagged shapes and separating in deep isolation.
But if the pledge to encourage children was taken on a larger level, we could all return to our “Poets Circle”, and pick up the paint brush from a place that is nourished and full, our bellies satisfied from a perspective of wealth.
And in that abundant mindset, we could leave the dumpsters to take out the trash, not our passions and dreams.
This is amnesty indeed.
I walk along with a group, following the docent as he shares the history of the Romanesque Revival building. It’s Valentine’s Day, and my first time to the museum. I’ve wanted to come here for years, and listen intently, eyes wide as I take in the exhibits and brick walls built in 1892. As he points to the black and white photograph from many years ago, I smile at my day’s education:
MoMA PS1’s original incarnation was the first public school in Long Island City.