“I now realize how intensely I’ve been living through my family.”

—N.C. Wyeth

Learn more about N.C. Wyeth, the American illustrator who lived 1882–1945.
Newell Convers Wyeth was the first of three generations of painters: his son Andrew and grandson Jamie both became celebrated artists in their own right.

Culture through Family

Last week I started a discussion about what it means to be fully human, a person, with the premise that humanity can’t exist in isolation. And one institution in particular introduces us to others—right out of the womb, in fact! Obviously, this institution is the family. I believe the family unit forms the foundation to all community, and therefore artists have a responsibility to further the health of family life. Strong families build strong persons, societies, nations, and cultures.

Back to that Balance 

Have you noticed that life subsists in balances? Last week we focused on the balance of the individual to the community. But a great deal of how we identify ourselves both as individuals and as part of broader society begins with our family.

I recently attended a graduate course lecture at a phenomenal university in Kentucky. The professor, during the course of the presentation, talked to the class about high-context and low-context cultures (a totally new concept for me). The topic presents far more nuances than I can adequately deal with here. However, for the purpose of our discussion, a high-context culture revolves around understanding one’s role in life and carefully following the strictures presented by the station one is born into. On the flip side, a low-context culture allows an individual more freedom to decide how one acts throughout life in any given situation.

Both perspectives present pros and cons. However, I imagine that anyone with a Western worldview reading those descriptions would revolt at the thought of living in a high-context culture. How constricting! Following some sort of guidelines for life laid down by society? Thanks, no thanks! Why, the very idea is downright un-American!

Family and Culture

I concluded last week that, in the United States at any rate, we over-value the rights of the individual. You’re welcome to add your opinions and thoughts to that conversation! And yet have you noticed that many people express feeling isolated and alone? How did this paradox come about? Again, a response to that question presents us with vast complexities. But I think the breakdown of the family forms a large part of the answer.

Family compels us to live with persons beyond ourselves. Ideally, family gives us a place in the world where we simply belong. Family life thrusts us into the midst of the most intricate emotional, psychological, and physical scenarios. The greatest joys, sorrow, happiness, pain, highest of highs, lowest of lows, “the best of times and the worst of times” come through families. But being in committed relationship with other people also introduces us at our earliest stage of life to ideals like sharing, love, forgiveness, teamwork, and a host of other virtues.

Needless to say, I personally have a lot to learn in this sphere; after all, I’m still keenly anticipating my wedding day. You who have experienced years and decades beyond my stage in life might be inclined to chuckle at my musings. But I look forward to learning, and would be delighted to hear your insights!

Artistic Self-Expression and Family

So how does all this talk about family and society tie into art? Well I’ve noticed a trend lately; let’s see if you agree. When I look at specifically the current fine art landscape, I see more and more paintings focusing on individuals. For example, a cursory glance at the prestigious 2016 Art Renewal Center Salon’s Winners will amply demonstrate the point.

Not only does the majority of figurative work focus on individuals, but a lot of these works also seem to lean towards the reprobate. Sensuality features predominately. Chaos reigns on canvas. Hopelessness shows through the scenes. Building on the theme of an artist’s responsibility to society, what sort of message do we convey through paintings such as these? Have we given ourselves entirely to eroticism and an apocalyptic future? When our children view these works of art, will they be encouraged and strengthened to pursue goodness, excellence, virtue, and truth?

Question: Do artists have a responsibility to promote good values? Does the current fine art landscape tend towards isolationism and despair? Does our family life in the United States (or other countries) need to be strengthened? Let us all know in the comment section below!

By the way, a few artists I’d recommend for their uplifting work portraying family life include Normal Rockwell, Daniel Gerhartz, and Jonathan Stasko.



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