We were chatting in the pool, me on the north end of 77 exercising creaky limbs, she in the fullness of youth. She had visited and suddenly asked, "What is your art all about?"

It is about you and me, I said, and the millions of others who inhabit this planet and call ourselves humans. It is about what we have done to each other over the centuries and continue to do today. No matter the cause, no matter the religion, no matter the politics, we are intent on hurting and harming.

Does any other species put its own into ovens at Dachau? Does any other exterminate their fellow/sister creatures for perceived imperfections? We like to think of ourselves as superior beings, yet we insist on creating ever more sophisticated ways to maim and kill. We send a terrifying missile more often than we lend a helping hand. We of the West, wrapped in our false hubris, are the only ones who have dropped an atomic bomb on other humans. We of the Cross once inflicted the Inquisition on our peers and today abuse our children. We of the Torah refuse food and water to Palestinian children and women on our borders. Perhaps it is our rage at being excluded from the Garden of Eden that propels us from one brutal exploit to another. Else how do we explain ourselves to ourselves, since an indifferent universe seems not to care? Nature has produced us; we produce Crack babies.

I paint and sculpt out of frustration, because I know we can do better and be better. I create out of anger at toxins and poisons, at arsenic in our drinking water, at an "Orphan Drug" that would have killed me had I given in to the blandishments of physicians. Is this "better dying through chemistry"? I cringe at the greed of institutions that we depend on to sustain our economy. At politicians who line their own very deep pockets at the expense of those they represent. I look in vain for Thomas Jefferson, and find instead Obamatom and Tomney.

So me not paint pretty. Me paint true. Me paint passionate. And Me paint horrified.

And then I take comfort in these words from the Financial Times of June 22, 2012. The author is describing art that is "reckless, daring, and urgent". She continues: "recklessness, a retreat from the world of reality into an inner life of the imagination, combined with the assurance of technical virtuosity plus a compulsion to experiment while there is still time. These qualities produce in the most original artists radical masterpieces that are at once a coda to earlier work while heralding breakthroughs often not fully understood until after their deaths."

She is writing about Titian and Matisse, Turner and Twombly.


c. Corinne Whitaker 2012

Portions of this essay originally appeared in the chapter called "Unfolding: A Memoir", written for the book and CD ROM "Women Artists of the American West".