Art as Love

Posted by Gregory Johnson on

I was recently interviewed on a podcast called "Cleveland Schwill", a local Cleveland source for all things artistic and interesting in this city. During my conversation with Dave and Jason, I mentioned that I believe art is love. Now what the hell do I mean by that?

The times we find ourselves in lately are especially nutty, it seems, and believe me, I should know, being sixty eight years of age. I've witnessed a few things. I can't recall ever in my life seeing racism, anti-semitism, sexism, homophobia, and well, just plain stupidity from people in positions of power like I have recently, resembling a slow ugly cancer spreading across the national psyche. There are many reasons for this, and you can come to your own conclusions as to why. The pendulum seems to be swinging back to days of willful ignorance and smouldering self-righteous hate. Okay, so what role does the artist play in these times?

Why do artists create? I can only say from my own point of view that it's a kind of simmering obsession, a need. Let's take Maud Lewis, for instance. She was a dirt poor Canadian woman who simply loved to paint. No formal training, just an obsession to create. She had no dreams of artistic glory, no agent, no sales agenda. Her work was discovered accidentally by a visitor to the one room shack she shared with her husband. In her last days, she could be found in the corner of her room, painting. She is now renowned as a folk artist, and her work now resides in museums. I believe I know why she did it: Joy. If one contemplates Vincent Van Gogh's paintings for just a few minutes, one realizes that ALL his paintings were about love. The beauty of a field of sunflowers, the awe of the night sky, the empathy for the suffering of the poor, the undying beauty in EVERYTHING. The pure, unadulterated passion of being.

Now, if I'm honest with myself, and why not, can't dance, I'm certain that love was not foremost in my thoughts when I first picked up that felt-tip pen. But there WAS this need, this itch to express the inexpressible. In a world that's obsessed with what enters our eyeballs and ears, what about what happening INSIDE ourselves?

Van Gogh's and Lewis's vision translated itself to the physical world, a place of the heart deep within that demanded expression. A different way to view reality, inside looking inside, and by way of bodily translation brought back to us in the physical world. The Muse.

What goes on there, deep inside? A whole hell of a lot, really. Virtually all of my works are attempts at translating the inner world. What do Picasso's cubist paintings say?

I won't attempt to answer that one, thank you, but you can bet your bottom dollar that if you view them for more than two seconds they make you feel something akin to chaotic wonder. Edward Hopper's work makes me sad for the inherent loneliness that we all feel. Maud Lewis makes me smile. Warhol gives me stark irony. As for my own work, I'll leave that up to you, should you care to look.

Do I belong with the group I just mentioned? Yes, I do. Not that I'm some kind of great artist, (that's a purely subjective idea, promoted by those who tell you so), but with the idea that we can touch each other's souls in a way that nothing else can.

This is what love is. A shared experience of what it's like to be alive as a human being. A deeper communication to our fellows that expresses pain, rage, awe, irony, joy, grief, loneliness, intimacy, opinion, yes even politics, and so on. It continues to challenge us by stretching the envelope and refusing to conform, and then conforming, but in a new way. Art revisits the bottomless wonder of a newborn baby drinking in the stimuli of its environment, and the rage and pain of that same child as it encounters difficulty. Expressing the inexpressible. A communal understanding that is at times not understandable. The beauty of ugliness, the ugliness of beauty. Life.

So how does this address the general lunacy that we are witnessing today? I truly believe that it is these small acts of love that, when added together can, through sheer weight of numbers, return us to a counter balance of this madness. There ARE those in this life that are sensitive souls. There ARE those who are emotionally intelligent and insightful. Love comes in many forms, from the small to the gigantic. As artists in all disciplines, it is incumbent upon us to continue to create, to stir the collective soul, to shift the zeitgeist toward a worldview that embraces the importance of the inner. It only took me over 45 years to realize this.

The result has been over 200 artworks produced over the last three years.

Better late than never.


1 comment

  • I love your work and what it stands for. Thank you for sharing this, people NEED to see it, hear it. Without pain and suffering how to we learn to be loving and compassionate. Learning, growing, and creating helps make this dysfunctional world a better place.

    Abbey on

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