Painting the National Mood: How Art Reflects Current Events

"Night Watch" by Rembrandt
“Night Watch” by Rembrandt

I just realized that as I paint every day, I am painting current events. This has probably always been true from the cave paintings of deer, bulls and horses (not only beautiful, but also yummy) to the self-satisfied, well-fed Dutch merchants painted by Rembrandt.

A famous example is “Rain, Steam and Speed” painted by J.M.W. Turner to express the anxiety felt by so many in the 1800s that the world was going too fast. Previously a fast horse defined the top possible speed and time had been measured for most by the rolling seasons, but now trains could go 30mph and perhaps this would prove fatal to humankind.

"Rain, Steam and Speed" by Turner
“Rain, Steam and Speed” by Turner

Yesterday I painted “Wind in the Willow.” The willow is normally a symbol of gracefulness and peace, but the political turmoil of the government shutdown, the near-miss of yet another love-bombing of a Middle Eastern nation (Syria) and the shaky economy have everyone on edge. So this willow is isolated and a strong wind ruffles his weeping branches.

"Wind in the Willow"
“Wind in the Willow”

Today I painted “Chance of Afternoon Thundershowers” which is what the weatherman says every summer day in Deepsouth-and he is almost always right. The heat boils up from the swamps and oceans and when it can’t take any more, it dumps the water back onto the land in what we call “frog-choakers.” Visitors sometimes pull off the road, thinking this is an unusual event, but residents plug along, hunching over their steering wheels and keep moving, which is safer than pulling off the road. An approaching storm is an obvious metaphor, but look-it may simply pass by.

"Chance of Afternoon Thunderstorms"
“Chance of Afternoon Thunderstorms”

I understand from merchandising experts that people do not want to buy realistic paintings referencing current events in any way. They want an abstract painting to match the couch and soothe them from their stressful lives. I understand that. The harder it gets just to stay even, the less energy people have for other activities-including political activism. I think those who call uninformed folks “sheeple” are arrogant and judgmental.

We who are not trying to raise three kids on an ever-dwindling income and incessant demands on our time can afford to be informed. The kind thing to do is help those who don’t have that luxury instead of judging them. Ultimately, we are all in this together, though we may at times feel like the lonely wind-ruffled willow.

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