Friday, January 15, 2010
The Queen Shares A Day With King
My friend Jennifer made me this fabulous crown, which I am planning to don for much of the day today...because once in awhile a girl deserves to be Queen! And today's my day.
But after forty-plus years of celebrating this day, I prefer to celebrate someone else. Someone who actually DESERVES a crown. Martin Luther King.
Aside from the fact that sharing my birthday with King gives me an automatic 3-day weekend every year, I am in awe of the vision, courage and power of this great man. I spent some time poring over his famous I Have A Dream speech this week, and realize we have come such a long way...yet we still have a long way to go.
My students created this portrait of Dr. King in December. And tonight they won first place in an exhibit honoring the civil rights movement. I love the way it turned out, and I love the meaning hidden within the constraints of the assignment. It's called Judge My Value, Not My Color.
Each student was given a 2” square grayscale image and assigned to create a stand-alone abstract painting. They were given total freedom of expression in terms of style, technique and color. The only constraints were size (the final image had to be an 8” square) and value (the final piece had to match the values of the supplied image).
The students were not told that these pieces were part of a single image, let alone a portrait of a historical figure. To them, the squares appeared to be small, abstract value studies.
Many students struggled with the abstraction. They didn’t know how to handle so much freedom. They wanted something tangible, concrete. But with some introspection they began to realize that the concepts they’d been taught throughout the semester (color relationships, value, contrast, rhythm, luminosity) applied without having to represent anything recognizable.
This is our result. Upon assembling the finished squares, we discovered that -- despite all the differing styles, colors, and approaches -- there was a strong sense of unity. The result is a visual “symphony of brotherhood” and visual proof that when our focus is on VALUE rather than COLOR, the image comes through with even greater vibrancy.
We learned that the greater the diversity, the freer the individual expression...the stronger and more dynamic the whole. Most important, we learned, as Dr. King so eloquently stated, that we were “able to work together...to struggle together...that we will [succeed] one day.”
I also included one of my portraits, begun as a class demonstration and finished later in the studio:
This is a portrait of Ruth Gooden. We were roommates at an art workshop several years ago. Although she was learning to paint for the first time, she seemed perfectly comfortable painting in a roomful of professionals! She is one of the most authentic, inspiring and radiant people I have ever met. She has hiked the 2000-mile Appalachian Trail not once, but TWICE, and says the best part of the trail was all the people she met. She dresses impeccably, tells wonderful stories, is joyful and engaging, and makes a friend of everyone who surrounds her.
In this portrait the hat casts a shadow on her face, symbolizing the darkness of segregation and injustice that was likely a part of her growing-up years. But this portrait is not about that shadow. It is about the light that reaches her smile, about the way a human soul has triumphed and flourished and outshone the injustice in its path.
I have chosen to include this portrait because Ruth embodies the realization of Martin Luther King’s dream. She is respected, loved, admired. She is judged by the content of her character rather than the color of her skin. Her sense of self is unshakable. In every sense of the word, I believe Ruth is free. And I hope to be that free myself someday.