This week in 1768, First Lady Dolley Madison was born. She famously saved a portrait of George Washington when the British invaded DC and burned the White House during the War of 1812. What would you have saved from the White House?
You know, it’s a funny thing. My father once told me that if the house were burning he would take this one particular painting instead of the kids. Because the kids, my brothers, have legs. So this hits home on a few levels.
What is the cultural value of an object (painting) versus that of a life? Of a precious document? Of a particular furnishing? What is the span of time we value? 80 years? 200 years? 8,000 years? They are barely blinks of a cosmic eye. Blips on the radar of the Universal. Yet here we are. Now. We are what we have now.
We fool ourselves into thinking that art imortalizes us.* That somehow our creations are above death. They, like us, will eventually return to dust. Which should not be a depressing thought, instead, it should liberate us to the bliss of constantly thinking and rethinking our relationship to the world around us now. The world we inhabit in this moment, and how we choose to spend our time.
I make art in service of my life, not to serve as some stamp of a fallacy of a legacy. Which is not to say I don’t value Art and the systems around it. Quite the contrary. However if the building were burning I’d save whatever Life there was inside that I could. I’d save the now.
*By which I mean, quite frankly, the privileged. Those who are able to cover the basic cost of life and who live in relative comfort.