Thursday, August 4, 2011

Our nation needs art therapy

LAS CRUCES — It’s a summer to take comfort where you can find it.
“When it all gets to be too much, I just look around my little living room and think, right now, at this moment, things are looking good,” said my daughter-in-law, Shannon, an artistic soul with an knack for beautifying her surroundings on a budget.
I thought about that centering attitude of gratitude and the healing power of artistic expression, as I tried to make sense of summer 2011, which has been filled with angst, sudden change, unrest and horrors, nationally, globally and personally.
For some reason, I keep thinking of 1967, famously known as the Summer of Love to nostalgic ’60s fans. But I also remember, as a journalism major at Michigan State, visiting Detroit and thinking that the city was about to explode. Detroit riots followed soon thereafter; then came a year of national tragedies, assassinations, protests and heartbreaks.
The mood seems similar this agonizing summer, I mused on a recent mid-week drive. Then I made an early morning trip to photograph a unique artistic tribute in progress. Alma d’arte students are deconstructing a dumpster painted by the late Alex Medina and turning it into a bench and memorial that will be part of an inspiring campus project.
“Students, faculty and volunteers are working on an art piece that makes a trash-the-violence statement and we’re thinking about creating a peace garden,” Alma founder Irene Oliver-Lewis said.
There’s something about an artistic, if wistful, homage to peace that can soothe the soul.
Many of our loved ones near and far are struggling with health insurance issues and cutbacks in hours and benefits, and those at or near retirement age are stressed out, too, by the economic uncertainties of this peripatetic summer.
The forces of arrogance and greed, partisan politics and governmental gridlock all seem locked, loaded and committed to summer high noon standoffs in Washington D.C., putting us all through more anxiety.
I was walking through the Downtown Mall grumbling to myself when I spotted Chelsea Melton’s custom license plate: “Stop repeat offenders: Do not re-elect them.” (Read about three generations of creative Melton family members in this week’s Artists of the Week feature on page 4E.)
A laugh at the one-glance solution cheered me up considerably more than wading through all the lengthy treatises I’m getting at home and the office, which include sensible suggestions that we return to our founding philosophy of government by citizen legislators rather than career politicians. Ideas include limiting congressman, senators and even presidents to one term, restricting all legislators to the same Social Security and health plans the rest of us have to cope with (elimination their self-customized platinum versions), strictly prohibiting campaign contributions from exceeding $10 for individuals AND for corporations, and abolishing the U.S. Electoral College in favor of one person, one vote.
Maybe if we could condense such concepts to a few license plates or bumper stickers, we could make progress in this era of information overload.
What I’d really like to do is make survival on minimum wage for six months a requirement for anyone running for office.
But I’d settle for some mandatory activities to channel all that raw energy into creative, rather than destructive, pursuits.
Maybe we should withhold THEIR paychecks until our lawmakers agree to sing “Kumbaya,” (in four-part, or at least two-part harmony). And maybe we should require them to regularly sit down together to make artistic macaroni bracelets, paint cooperative murals or create and fire pottery together without breaking anything or wasting all their art supplies.
Or, better yet, we should demand that they stage an annual bipartisan show to benefit (rather than demoralize) the American public.
In the stressed-out summer of 2011, we all could use an artistic break.

S. Derrickson Moore can be reached at (575) 541-5450

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