In a legal context, justice implies the assignment of retribution: getting what’s coming to you, be it a hefty fine or the couple dollars your friend’s owed you for months. Justice also implies fairness. Due process, impartiality, and the objectivity of the law. When an artist wants do justice to an experience, the parameters are less clear. Justice still implies fairness, but impartiality and objectivity are unattainable in art created out of subjective human experience. These principles hold a certain weight when applied to the experience of mental illness and the art that springs from it.
My high school friend hung herself from her basement ceiling at the age of sixteen. When I talk about her, I want my words to accurately reflect who she was as a person. I want to write her fully-fleshed: sunlit strawberry blonde curling in the schoolbus breeze to the cadence of her new favorite song, or fervently chasing the lightning storm on a stifling summer night with me tagging along. I want to write her as living, warm—as I knew her—but I don’t want to write her back to life. Either to ignore her death for the sake of the fullness of her life, or to ignore her life for the sake of her unnecessary and cataclysmic death, would be dishonest. When I profess the life and death of my friend, I want to do justice to her experience and to my experience of her, but there are no set rules to govern this.
Art is no stranger to the experience of mental illness. Creative communities have wrestled with the representation of mental illness in art for centuries; the trope of the “tortured genius” is one that, despite questionable validity, has stood the test of time. Regardless of the saturation of the creative community with these works, artistic expression rejects judgement. Unchecked art, however, fosters an arts community in which the truth-value of a piece is divorced from its technical-value. While art about mental illness may be judged as “good” art—demonstrating proficiency in a particular craft—there are other, subtler, value judgements that delineate art which does justice to the experience of mental illness.
A primary consideration in the judgement of art about mental illness is context: the medium, genre, and situation in which a work is framed colors the perception of piece. Certain contexts serve not primarily to educate or give testimony to an experience, but instead to sensationalize and glamorize. Few artists seek to romanticize mental illness, but creative choices from the media of a piece to the context in which it is viewed affect its reception and thereby its interpretation.
Framing is an element of artistic work often considered only in the context of design. However, the constraints of frame on an image, issue, or experience have implications broader than the piece’s technical prowess. The scope of story shown by an artwork directly affects the truth it tells. By inappropriately limiting or broadening artistic expression, mental illness may be inaccurately construed and is oftentimes grossly simplified.
The 2017 Netflix television series 13 Reasons Why tells the story of Hannah Baker, her suicide, and the thirteen tapes she leaves behind. While the show has received highly polarized reviews, the producers remain in adamant defense of their work, citing its hard-to-swallow moments and graphic depiction of suicide as catalysts for conversation. On the other hand, many mental health experts have spoken out against the series. In terms of popularity, 13 Reasons Why has been widely successful. However, in terms of truth-value—the show’s contextualization and framing of mental illness—the series not only falls short, it is dangerous.
The first failure of the show to do justice to the experience of mental illness is an issue of context. A suicide motif within the Hollywood narrative is colored in vastly different shades than it might be elsewhere. Through the rose-colored glasses of a show that is largely indistinguishable from your average high school drama, suicide is imbued with a romanticism that does the opposite of justice to its topic. The vessel through which the weighty subject of the series is contextualized contorts its message dramatically. Hannah’s graphic death in 13 Reasons serves, according to the show’s producers, to “dispel the myth” of peaceful release often associated with suicide. In reality, Hannah’s identity as the story’s protagonist and the influence of her posthumous words characterize her death as a final, radically successful struggle for power.
The second shortcoming of 13 Reasons is manifested in its failure to make a direct connection between suicide and mental illness. The series does little to name, or even hint at, the neurological factors that underscore instances of suicide. Bordered by a clean, cause-and-effect narrative arc, the limited scope of the story propels the assumption that Hannah’s experience of bullying and social conflict alone led her to kill herself. In the thirteen tapes that serve as Hannah’s suicide note, she names the individual people and situations that factored in her decision. These tapes serve as a testament to the experience of bullying, but neglect issues of mental illness, and in doing so fail to provide the show’s audience with the tools to recognize and aid in a similar situation.
Standing in stark contrast to 13 Reasons Why, the music of solo artist Julien Baker functions as an evocative testimony to her own experience of anxiety and depression. Her first album, Sprained Ankle, holds joy in the same shaking breath that sings the world’s brokenness back to it. Baker communicates emotion with apt candor, and contextualizes her message in perhaps the most raw, personal way possible: alone on stage with a guitar. From the opening track’s image of “saline communion” in the back of an ambulance to the earnest plea with which she ends her album (“God, I wanna go home”), she brings to life her own experience in a way that simultaneously nuances a serious subject and strips it of romantic notions. She does not attempt to bound her experience within thematic or narrative constraints, but rather frames mental illness through the perspective she knows best: her own. Baker’s personal, intimate, and unassuming approach to her artistic work underscores her experience of depression and anxiety without hyperbolizing it, holding it a half-hour album without simplifying it.
Baker willingly bares her own brokenness with a candor that provides emotional nuance and raw clarity to her work. Mental illness and joy exist not as a dichotomy, but in all the inner complexities of individual experience. Baker’s treatment of her own wounds and the world’s scars admit this attentive love, and do justice to experience.
It's true—our staff is (and always has been) a dog-loving bunch. Meet each of us (and maybe our pups) below.
Taylor Hartson is on her final year with Dialogue, serving as the editor-in-chief for her last go-round. She’s a senior who (still) can’t decide what to do with her life, so for now, she’s settled on finishing her studies in sociology, psychology, and writing and trying her hand at research, design, writing, and data visualization. Her dad always jokes that she’ll be in school for the rest of her life (and she hopes he’s not wrong). You’re most likely to find her surviving on coffee, trying to read four books at the same time, or petting her dog, Teddy.
Annake VandeBrake is a sophomore film and graphic design double major, as well as layout editor this year. She’s a cultural discerner for Shultze-Eldersvelde and enjoys eating tacos. She mourns daily for the absence of vine and some say she talks a lot. She enjoys art in all forms, but really, Bob Ross is the only artist who earns her respect.
Molly Vander Werp doesn’t think it’s a coincidence that ‘dog’ is ‘god’ spelled backwards. Other than that, she’s the managing editor of Dialogue this year and a sophomore studying Biochemistry + Writing. Outside of Dialogue, she’s a member of the Artist Collaborative and the Student Activities Board. She loves poetry + music, especially, and currently obsesses over punctuation and anything that Mitski puts out. She really loves gingko leaves, her dog, Willis, and the 2002 film Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron. It’s probably her favorite. She bets it’s yours, too.
Ethan Hohn is on his second year with Dialogue. He’s a strategic communications major with a minor in writing. Along with Dialogue, he is an active member of the Student Activities Board and President of the Film Arts Committee. He loves to hang out with friends, watch movies, listen to music, and argue against public restrooms. He’s really excited about being on Dialogue this year. He loves the way art connects people, inspires, and informs all aspects of life. Talk to him if you feel the same.
J. Andrew Gilbert is a soon-to-be artist who thought he was going into animation, but now in his senior year, he definitely has no idea since he pretty much likes everything. He enjoys exploring subjects related to emotional health, fantasy and cute narratives, and sexuality and gender in whichever medium he is handling at the time. For him, it's also important to find the meeting places of mindfulness and art, so he tries and create repetitive motions that can be incorporated into pieces. Also, he's not as snobby as this bio makes him sound and was born and raised in Brazil.
Madeleine Wiering is in her final year at Calvin and Dialogue. She’s been on this great team for four years, and it's been a great experience. When she’s not in class or at work, she’s often writing music, watching Netflix on the couch with her dog, Oscar, designing papers with her dad, or taking walks outside in nature.
Mimi Mutesa is a senior at Calvin College. She is currently the Arts and Entertainment editor at Chimes and part of the layout team with Dialogue. She is an avid photographer (shameless plug: @mimimutesa) who is dreading the winter. She is currently looking for post grad jobs in places where the air doesn’t hurt her face.
Patrick Jonker is a senior studying biochemistry and philosophy. He currently juries for Dialogue in music and prose. Dialogue is important to him because after many years of life, art still surprises and challenges him. Art has changed his ideals, his priorities, and has definitely become his passion through listening, reading, and seeing. Art provides an honest platform for people to express real things. Dialogue is giving kids going through a crazy 4-5 years a chance to be honest with themselves and with each other. That’s beyond cool: it’s necessary. Anyways, some other stuff he does is play cello and guitar, write poetry when he has time, and read way too much Cormac McCarthy. He really loves music, so he’s usually on his phone in the library with his headphones in when he should be studying. Ask him what he’s listening to and he’ll nerd out for you. He also really, really likes that old animated version of Robin Hood with the foxes. He watches it every day. Not really. He wishes he did.
Elyse Rhoades is currently a junior studying strategic communications, marketing, and art. This is her second year being on staff for Dialogue, and she helps with social media and communications for the journal. She’s from the Indianapolis area and has a love-hate relationship with the Hoosier state. Art has always been a passion of hers, and you can usually find her in her room drawing flowers and killing her micron pens religiously. She has an unhealthy obsession with Star Wars, the YouTube makeup world (Jeffree Star is my idol), and running.
Emma Crevier is new here on Dialogue. She’s from Beverly, a neighborhood on the South Side of Chicago that happens to have the the best sweet potato ice cream. Ever. In the history of all space and time. She’s studying graphic design and German here at Calvin, so she’s excited to put her skills to good use on the staff. Some things she enjoys are baking (especially banana bread), doing Improv at Calvin, painting, and listening to good tunes with friends. If you get to know her, don’t be surprised if she asks you what your favorite dessert is. She’s big into crepes. They can be dinner or dessert! So very versatile. It’s also not surprising that half of the sentences in her bio have been about food in some way.
Hajin Yoo is a Junior studying Strategic Communications and French. She serves as one of the Social Media Coordinators on Dialogue. In her free time, she likes to pile New Yorker magazines into stacks, and overshare about her year abroad in France. Her favourite dessert is Creme Brulee and her favourite movie is Ratatouille...see what I mean?
Jacob Bol is currently a junior studying psychology and social work. He’s also currently a part of the Artist Collaborative here at Calvin. This is his second year on the Dialogue staff, and he’s thrilled to be a part of it. His relationship with art has always been a rollercoaster. He’ll get really into music for a few weeks, and then graphic design for another few, then photography, then writing, and then whatever else there is to offer. So, he really loves all forms of art, which is why he's so interested in Dialogue and its inclusion of different genres. This year, he’s looking forward to making posters, visuals, and designing layout for the final product of Dialogue.
Avery Gill is a sophomore majoring in psychology and writing. On staff, she helps out where she can, designing posters and working on layout. She is passionate about all forms of art, especially black and white ink drawings and Edward Hopper paintings. In her free time, she simultaneously watches and roasts Riverdale, dreams about having time to read for pleasure, and annoys her floor with obnoxiously loud music. We are all creative beings and thus creating is essential to our being. Dialogue showcases these creations, and she is so grateful to be part of that.
Zion Kim is, if the last name hasn't given it out already, a Korean who somehow ended up at Calvin studying business marketing after living in three different continents over the past 18 years. She will impress you with how short her attention span is and how your "5-minute catch up" can (and will) turn into a three-hour conversation with both of you crying under her fairy lights while listening to “Chasing Cars.” She’s also developed an unhealthy obsession with Brad Pitt over the years, and her heart shattered to pieces when Brangelina split up—that’s not a figure of speech. Art, for her, is first and foremost a way God breathes through His creation and through her. Art is also a way to keep her sane through a life full of unanswered questions and unconfronted responsibilities.
Clara Visser is a freshman majoring in graphic design, and she’s beyond excited to be on staff for Dialogue this year. She has always loved creating. As a kid, she would wake up early and sneak downstairs to sit at her craft table and make pom-pom and popsicle stick constructions. She would write short stories in her free time and would often ambitiously set out to write full-blown chapter books. To this day, you’ll still catch her filling sketchbooks with drawings during class and covering the corners of her assignments with doodles. Some random things about her are that she loves sweaters, is unashamedly a huge Harry Potter fan, has a weird obsession with cereal, and owns a ridiculous amount of pens and markers.
Isabel Nunez wants you to call her Izzy because only her mom calls her Isabel. She’s a first year-student at Calvin and therefore, a first-year staff member of Dialogue. She is a graphic design major with a strategic communications minor. The arts have always been an important part of her life, and getting to be a part of a publication that encourages and fosters self-expression is such an honor. She is a Harry Potter and 90’s movie enthusiast. When she’s not doing homework, she’s either reading a book, listening to music, nerding out over the DC or Marvel Comics franchise, or petting her dog. She has a passion for photography and watercolor, but she loves all artistic media. She is beyond excited to be a part of this creative publication and thrilled to be gaining valuable experience.
To some, photography is a daunting medium. Making sure the colors, contrast, depth of field, focus, and framing are correct and to the photographer's liking may seem tedious. And beyond this, the photographer must find something visually interesting to take a picture of.
Well, what makes a photograph interesting? To the street photographer, it is as easy as grabbing your camera and taking a photo of whatever looks interesting. The street photographer takes to the corners of neighborhoods to find beauty in a forgotten landscape. The street photographer goes to parks where people are enjoying picnics, or to a protest, or a spontaneous baseball game in the middle of the street. The street photographer records filth, gore, love, violence, joy, poverty, wealth, and humanity.
The art of candid photography was pioneered heavily by French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson, whose work has been described as “anti-graphic photography.” This is to say that his work is low-effort on its surface. The contrast is strikingly gray—no severe dark or light areas. His subjects are often expressionless and cold. But this monotony creates subjectivity in Cartier-Bresson’s work. The beautiful thing about his work, and street photography in general, is that it does not tell you how to feel. You can assign an emotion to the piece just as freely as you can with abstract painting. This is because the street photographer is capturing a moment, like a screenshot from a film. A unique moment which only that instance knows.
To Cartier-Bresson’s audience in 1932, his work was completely alien. These faces told stories that were beyond their level of accepting a narrative. Cartier-Bresson’s first American gallery showing was led by gallery owner Julien Levy. Levy saw the brilliance in Cartier-Bresson’s work, but he also knew that it was too out-there for an American audience. So, in hopes of cushioning the abrasiveness of it he penned a letter which was published as an essay for that show. He called the exhibition, “amoral photography, equivocal, ambivalent, anti-plastic, accidental photography.” Though people had a hard time with it at first, Cartier-Bresson’s style soon took off. This seemingly journalistic, unprofessional form took hold internationally. Street photography began filling art galleries, museums, and books around the world.
The appeal of candid photography is its story-telling ability. It is a slice of life from a culture that may not be well-represented. It shows the perversions of man, his hunger, his creations, and his silence. Now that almost anyone has a camera in their pocket, street photography is more important and more popular than ever before. For this generation, it is becoming more than an art form: it is life.
If you’re like us, there are times when being creative feels more like a chore than anything else. It can sometimes feel like the effort to create is just too big to bear, and that perhaps no good ideas will ever spring forth again (or at least, that’s how we feel).
Whether your chosen medium is writing, visual art, film, music, or something else entirely, a lack of creativity seems to devour us all at one time or another. And so, we decided that we wanted to share some of our favorite ways to overcome the feeling of being blocked.
Here’s our list of suggestions for what to do when you’re stuck with creative block:
Katie Ulrich + Emma Carpenter
In the United States, class lines are commonly drawn based on income. There are websites that will graciously calculate your class status for you, using little more than your annual salary and zip code. Nobody walks around with their net worth floating above their heads like some monetized halo, and yet we all have our own ideas about the social class identity of those around us: our friends and extended family members, our professors, the man we stood next to on the bus this morning, and the woman who held the library door for us.
Any sociology class or baseline research on the concept of archetypes will bring to light the social constructs by which each person is subconsciously trained to stratify people. Perceptions of age, ethnicity, gender, and sexual orientation may affect the way we place individuals into social classes, consciously or not. Another influencer, one that is highly penetrant in our perception of social class but rarely discussed, is taste.
It does not take much observation to recognize that the common approach to art consumption cultivates a system of “art classes” that parallel social classes. Name your art form; chances are, it is translatable into both highbrow and lowbrow art.
Certain styles of visual art have hung in museums for decades, while comic art and manga have fought pencil and nail to make a name for themselves in the arts community. Until the mid-twentieth century, British universities did not study the novel, as it was considered a lowbrow art form. At February’s Grammy Awards, Kendrick Lamar’s record DAMN. was passed up for Album of the Year for Bruno Mars’ 24K Magic, despite its greater popularity and critical acclaim.
These instances exemplify a system of arts in which the value of an artwork is often determined without regard to the art itself. It’s a two-way relationship: the merit of an artwork is in part based upon the social class from which and for which it was created, and a consumer of art may be lumped into a social class based the artworks in which they see merit.
There is beauty in the melting pot metaphor, the image of the United States as a community where differing cultural backgrounds can be smoothly assimilated. However, in the context of art, a melting pot results in loss. The blending of different tastes leads to the masking of many, producing instead in a singular, common taste. This taste is an ideology, but one that, when stirred through complex cultural schemes of class and meaning, becomes natural. The idea of “good taste,” then, is an arm of a cultural ideology.
As certain tastes are classified as more valuable than others—art is labeled as highbrow or lowbrow, monetary value is assigned to creative works, publications compile “book lists” and the local radio station plays on a loop—individuals associated with the production and consumption of certain art forms are also categorized. This allocation of cultural capital is harmful when objects and experiences associated with the lower class become indicators of artwork that is less valuable—a judgement not based on the merit of the art itself.
We often use art to distinguish ourselves as members of a specific social class. People are prone to advertising artistic preferences that they think will identify them with a social group and establish them as different from lower classes of people. Oftentimes, the art we like and promote speaks to our own experiences and the experiences of the people we want to group ourselves in with, but art that speaks to the experience of being poor in America is widely different from that which can be related to the life of a wealthy individual. A film documenting the childhood of a boy in rural Montana does not communicate the same meaning in a New York City theater that it does in the town where it was filmed. To Kill a Mockingbird is written from the perspective of Scout, not Tom Robinson, and some days I wonder if we would still read it in schools if that flipped.
And yet, artworks that speak to experiences as diverse as the entirety of the world are judged on the same scale. In many considerations, this is natural and necessary; however, it is important to consider the failures of this system of judgement. There are prejudices implicit in taste that are informed by social context rather than content, and unfair judgements may go on to inform prejudice even outside the art world.
Throughout history, art museums have held a central role in the curation of “good taste.” While recent decades suggest a blurring of the line between fine art and pop art, historically, museums have catered to limited audiences. In their failure to curate collections of art that speak to the immense variety of human experience and expression, art museums limit their audiences. It follows, then, that the demographic of the American art museum attendee is far less diverse than that of the American public. The whitewashed walls of the modern museum today too often reflect its audience. While roughly one-third of the United States population identifies as non-white, fewer than one-sixth of art museum attendees do. Even in the most diverse U.S. cities, 80-90% of museum goers are white.
While the modern arts culture is far from free of class bias, recent shifts provide hope for the future of the creative community. Art movements in the late twentieth century have pushed back against ideologies of taste. From postmodernism to pop art to the emergence of “hipsters,” the distinctions between high and lowbrow art are not as clearly defined as they once were. he ideology of “good taste” stays dynamic by continually assimilating styles of art from cultural margins, illustrating that taste does not work like trickle down economics. In this lies the danger of appropriation, but also a hope of validation for art forms that may be otherwise disregarded.
The film Lady Bird, released in November 2017 and nominated for Best Picture at last night’s Academy Awards, includes a snippet of dialogue in which Lady Bird, a seventeen-year-old living in Sacramento, is interpellated by a comment from one of the Sisters at her Catholic high school: “Don’t you think maybe they are the same thing? Love and attention?” When it comes to talking about art, maybe they are.
Molly Vander Werp
Your date starts when he picks you up in his beat-up Honda Accord, making sure that Sufjan Stevens is playing perfectly with the bass picking up some good beat. You’re excited because the two of you have plans to go to ethnic restaurant for the first time, and hopefully you’ll drink some imported tea from a country most people couldn’t locate on a map. When you get there, your conversation turns to the latest Grammy snub—how Kendrick totally deserved album of the year, and who even is Bruno Mars? As you sip your wine, commenting that you like its fruit-forward tones and stony finish, you go on to discuss Isle of Dogs and how excited you are to see another of Wes Anderson’s movies come to life. Oscar nominations are up next, and you list off how you only have two movies left to see but that you’re sure Del Toro’s next masterpiece will snag the Oscar, since duh, Pan’s Labyrinth.
After dinner, you go home and watch the Sundance Film festival's Lizzie beneath an Ai Weiwei poster, eating Oreos and sipping homemade kombucha you’ve been brewing in your rented apartment. Later in the night, you trade your copy of Being Mortal for his book Astrophysics for People in a Hurry and discuss the latest New York Times article about millennials and how wrong they are about your generation. You forget to give him your perfectly handmade portrait of the two of you in the style of Picasso’s blue period, so you create a last-minute Spotify playlist that expresses your love through Sylvan Esso instead. By the end of the night, you haven’t even covered Tom Hanks playing Mr. Rogers in the upcoming biopic of his life, or the issues of gender roles in society, or the awful state of the government, but you feel you should leave because it’s 4:00 am and you have an 8:00 am painting class with Elaine Harlow. But who cares? Is Valentine’s Day even real or validated? Of course not, you fool— Valentines is superficial and made up by our society dripping in consumerism.
The televised Grammy awards—music’s most highly coveted indicator of acknowledged excellence in music—opened last Sunday with Kendrick Lamar’s performance of a ballad from his new album DAMN. The performance included cameos from Bono and “The Edge” of U2, and Dave Chappelle, a stand-up comedian and creator of “Chappelle’s Show” which airs on comedy central.
The performance compiled various songs from his new album including “DNA,” “XXX,” a sample from “LUST,” and repeated comedic interjections from Chappelle, narrating Lamar’s performance for the audience. His first comment, which came after Lamar paused and the words “This is a satire by Kendrick Lamar,” appeared on screen, Chappelle stopped everything and said, “The only thing more frightening than watching a black man be honest in America is being an honest black man in America.”
The performance was a moving representation of Lamar’s inner struggle with his vices, following the theme of his album released in April, but even more prominently, the performance emulated the struggle of being an African-American man in America. Lamar’s music has always been focused on race relations and his own identity as an African-American man; his performance at the Grammys was a moving expression of the voice Lamar has developed over four studio albums.
DAMN. was up for Album of the Year, along with Lorde’s Melodrama, Jay-Z’s 4:44, Awaken, My Love by Childish Gambino, and 24K Magic by Bruno Mars. After two previous snubs for album of the year and DAMN sitting at the top of Billboard 200 albums at the end of 2017, it felt like this was Lamar’s year to win.
The Grammy, however, went to Bruno Mars’ record 24K Magic.
The Grammys have always seemed to value popularity over critical prestige; however, Lamar’s DAMN was far from outside the realm of the popular. At the end of 2017, DAMN was number one on Billboard’s top 200 records, while Mars’ 24K Magic sat second. Similarly, Lamar’s hit “HUMBLE” was the fourth most popular song of 2017, while Bruno Mars’ “24K Magic” was third, according to CBS.com. DAMN and 24K Magic were comparable in terms of popularity, and DAMN was much more critically successful, scoring a 95 on Metacritic against a mere 70 from 24K Magic, yet Mars took home the Grammy robbing Lamar of his third straight Album of the Year (AOY) award.
Lamar wasn’t the only one robbed at the Grammys. Lorde and Jay-Z were both not given a single award, and Vince Staples and A Tribe Called Quest were not nominated for a single Grammy after their critically acclaimed 2016-2017 releases (for a really funny, interesting, and VERY good article from NPR that discusses Vince Staples’ criticism of many aspects of the Grammys, click here).
Women were again egregiously underrepresented at this year’s Grammys. In the past six years, only ten percent of all Grammy nominations have been women, and this year Alessia Cara was the only woman to win a major Grammy, taking “Best New Artist.” There are countless others who weren’t recognized, but the purpose of this blog post isn’t to discuss every single Grammy miss.
Bruno Mars was the only artist up for Album of the Year who is relatively uncontroversial. Lamar is a renowned critic of Trump and sampled Fox News anchor Geraldo Rivera twice on DAMN; Lorde refused to sing in a Tom Petty tribute because she was the only female AOY nominee and the only AOY nominee who was denied the opportunity to perform a solo act for the Grammys; Donald Glover (Childish Gambino) is the writer and co-star of the show “Atlanta” which airs on FX and emphasizes the work of African-Americans and race relations; Jay-Z recently criticized Trump’s lack of care for the well-being of African-Americans in an interview with CNN. To my knowledge, Bruno Mars has not done more than refuse to play at Trump’s presidential inauguration. “The Onion,” a satirical magazine, ossified the reputation of the Grammys as anti-political, headlining an article: “Bruno Mars Takes Home Coveted ‘Least Threatening Artist’ Award At 2018 Grammys.”
The Grammys president reinforced the criticisms of the Grammys by saying—in response to the lack of female nominations and wins at this year’s Grammys (and in the Grammys historically)—that females should “Step it up.”
This year, the Grammy nominations gave me hope that the path the Grammys have gone down so many times had diverted to a more racially inclusive, less sexist, less generally prejudiced end. Countless artists were still snubbed, but the fact that albums from politically active people with political themes in their music (save Bruno Mars) were nominated for many Grammys, was uplifting.
The results of the Grammys and the comments from the president have shown that the unfortunate truth of the Grammy awards is that though some of these artists who are not necessarily “safe” are acknowledged in nominations, they are on the outside looking in at the awards themselves. We need to recognize that when the Grammys picked 24K Magic as the album of the year over an album like DAMN., which received much better critical reception and was at least comparable in popularity (according to Billboards 200), they are continuing to purport a version of enablement against discourse about issues relevant to the current social climate of the United States.
When Kendrick arrived on stage on Sunday he had the intention of stirring the pot and starting a conversation about something. I can’t be sure of exactly what because I am not Kendrick Lamar, but what I can be sure of is that when I watch and listen to his performance I ask questions about race, inner brokenness, and the elements thematically prominent in DAMN as well as more that his performance emphasized. When the Grammys refuse to fully acknowledge Lamar by robbing him of the AOY Grammy three consecutive times, or refuse to acknowledge the significance of Lorde’s Melodrama by not offering her a spot to perform a solo act, or by saying that women need to “Step it up,” thereby ignoring the breadth and importance of music released by women, the Grammys suppress and fail to continue the conversations these artists aim to start.
I have no answers for how to mend what’s been rifted, but we need to talk about it nonetheless. Art is a platform where personally I have found some of the most interesting social dialogue, and as people engaged in the world and art we need to recognize where exterior recognition falls short. I would go as far as to say that it is our Christian obligation to at least address and talk about these things, regardless of the conclusion you might come to. My position is hopefully obvious, but there are countless other voices all with opinions that differ from mine.
Kendrick walked away with five Grammys on Sunday, including Best Rap Album. He didn’t get what he probably hoped for, and what maybe should have been, but he didn’t walk away empty-handed. The Grammys recognized him as the greatest rapper in the world for a third time, though that consolation is not enough. We cannot forget what the Grammys decide in moments like this because the things we do in recreation, like the Grammy awards, that are celebratory, the things that are “Just for fun,” may be some of the best indicators of where our society stands in its broader ideals.
If you would have asked me three years ago what I thought my college experience would be like, I would have said something about attending art school and possibly being at my peak of production thus far as an artist. In my head, I pictured myself attending an art school downtown Indianapolis and taking multiple painting and drawing classes each semester. I thought that I would have so many new works to add to my portfolio and have multiple other fellow art student friends. However, this is not my reality. My reality is that I attend Calvin College, not Herron School of Art and Design. My reality is intensive core classes like religion and theology, which is difficult for a public school kid like myself. My reality is a basement hallway for an art department and having too much other homework that I can’t even find time to sketch in my sketchbook. I am told that college is the time to “find yourself,” but the place I have always found my identity in has been my art. In fact, I can remember the first thing I was told by a professor when expressing my interest in being an art major. I believe his exact words were, “You don’t go to Calvin for the art program.” In a way, I guess he was right, considering I am now only an Art minor instead of major, but that’s beside the point. The point is, how am I supposed to “find myself” without being surrounded by an inspirational environment?
I know there are a lot of other Calvin students like me who can relate to this artistic struggle of wanting to be at your peak of production, but finding yourself in your worst drought. It’s hard to go from the extreme of constantly having exciting art projects to finish for class to now having three finals and a paper consuming your time. Although painting and drawing is something that I wish I had more time for, I have found that there are small ways in which you can keep a continual flow of creativity in your busy life. This is one of the reasons why going into my sophomore year, when I realized I would be taking zero painting or drawing classes both semesters, I desperately searched for an outlet to be a part of. I applied to be on Dialogue’s staff in hopes that being in a creative environment with other artists would get my artistic juices flowing. Besides being a staff member, there are some more small ways that I stay in a creative mindset even during my busiest of weeks.
Perhaps the smallest but most fun way I keep ideas flowing is doodling in class. Now, from an academic standpoint, this probably isn’t the best advice. However, I have found some of my best concept ideas for a painting or drawing to come from my class notes. My mind just starts to wander during a lecture and I often begin to practice drawing portraits without reference, which then turn into elaborate full-page doodles of flowers and outer space and swirling hair. I have found that this tactic can be very helpful during a drought because even though you’re not really creating anything serious or with substance, at least you’re creating.
Finding a favorite art blog, website, magazine etc. is a huge way to stay up to date with not only what is going on in the art community but keeping a flow of ideas in your head. This is one that I wish I did more often because I find that looking at other contemporary artist’s work in today’s age can be extremely beneficial in your own process. Some of my favorites are Juxtapoz Magazine or The Jealous Curator blog. The Jealous Curator is my ultimate favorite because the author posts such an abundance of different types of pieces that are worthy of any artist’ envy. All the artists when features in her blog are also super relevant and involved in the art community right now, so it’s just cool to be looking at contemporary art in our day and age.
One of the most influential platforms in my life, and probably a lot of other college students, is social media. I have found that it’s so important to fill your feed with other artists works just so that you are exposed to them throughout your scrolling time. My favorite thing to do when I want to get into the artistic mood is just to go find my followed artists accounts and just stalk everything. Going back to their past works and seeing how they have grown or just how they work and analyzing their unique style is always beneficial. Some of my favorite artists on Instagram to follow are Ruth Speer, Jen Mann, and Rik Lee. These are all mainly portrait artists with a twist, which is what I like to paint and my favorite kind of art to look at everyday on my feed.
Everyone has a different creative process, and some tactics are more beneficial than others. These are just a few ways that I personally maintain my “I’m in the mood to paint” mindset while I have no time or really no solid ideas. All I know is being in a drought sucks, and trying to stay artistic when you don’t have time for art classes also sucks. We just got to get through it together as fellow Calvin art students and encourage creative cultivation.