To All My Courageous Artist Friends

Life is far from normal right now, and I'm sure I'm not the only one whose heart is heavy and filled with worry.  If you've read any of my emails you know by now that I was born and raised in Germany. I discovered my grandfather's sketchbooks when I was a young teenager, which eventually led me to become an artist. But that grandfather, whose drawings gave me a glimpse for what's artistically possible, also was part of Nazi Germany. And his white supremacist beliefs, however obfuscated and masked, have left harmful, indelible marks in my family, and the world.

My other grandparents were a different part of Nazi Germany. They described themselves as "not-Nazis". And in response to questions about how they could've let history happen the way they did, they answered "We weren't Nazis. We didn't think it would get this bad" Seeing the trajectory of this country come to a boiling point over the last few days leaves my stomach in knots. My grandparent's "We weren't Nazis." is our equivalent of  "I'm not a racist." It doesn't cut it. That sort of thinking has never cut it. I know that artists are some of the bravest people because we can imagine and see many new scenarios, possibilities and outcomes. We can zoom out and see not only the parts but also the interconnected whole. Everyday that I'm in the classroom I teach classical drawing principles, which urge us to look for relationships, to see the big picture, to hold the tension of looking at the unresolved while working toward a satisfying finish, and to examine the unnamed, negative spaces, overlooked by everyday people. As well-trained artists we utilize a conscious way of navigating the creative process, or otherwise we don't get the results we're after. Why would anything less be true for everyday life as citizens and as friends? So this is a humble call to all my artist and creative friends to bring the same rigor and courage asked of us as artists and art students to our everyday life, so we stand on solid footing when we stand in solidarity with people of color. I don't presume to have better sources than you do, but if you're paralyzed by "I don't know where to start" or "I don't want to do this wrong", the two crippling handicaps of ANY creative endeavor, then let me give you a starting point.

  • On Being has a rich library of thoughtfully nuanced conversations. I've been dipping into their well of wise voices for over 10 years. Here's a link to their Race & Healing library.

  • This is a comprehensive 11 page document with definitions, resources and immediate action steps, compiled by Melissa Griffin.

I know little to nothing of what it's like to be black in America. I'm white and I'm privileged. I do know what it's like to be an artists and to face the creative call though. I know the feeling of wanting to hide my inadequacies (skill shortcomings), of dodging the creative call by saying "I'll draw/paint when I have more time/ when the time is right/ when I have more to say...", and of wanting to stay comfortable in pre-set formats, laid out by other teachers, instead of making my own clumsy attempts of uncovering my own voice. The tools we need, to be artists who are true to ourselves, are the same tools we need, to be the kind of people who shape the world we so desperately keep waiting for. I have faith in you and I that we can do the hard work of living up to our highest hopes. I have faith in you and I that we have what it takes to bravely discover who we are to ourselves and to each other. I have faith in you and I that we can create what our hearts are calling out for. With much love, Carolin


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