White, Woman and Wokeness

I recently posted a new painting of mine (on a Facebook artist group) of a woman whose face is melting/disintegrating in anguish. At least that’s what I hope is portrayed. The working title is “The Moment Of White Privilege Wokeness.” It is a portrait of a mostly well-to-do-white woman coming to terms with white privilege. Although not well-to-do, I live a comfortable life and include myself in this disturbing painting which is my first since the murder of George Floyd. I was unable to paint or comment for weeks after this horrific event and all the ugliness it represents and has cracked open.

There is confusion, sadness, struggle, discomfort, pain and so much more on this topic. As an artist, I feel an obligation to allow all of this to flow through my work. I am not preaching, simply following the footsteps of many an artist whose creativity reflected the good and the ill in society. I posted the painting and opened it up to my artist peers’ critique for examination.

There was a landslide of emotional and international responses to my painting by artists in the group and comments not limited to Mr. Floyd’s murder, but to the whole of white privilege, artistic expression, past vs present, injustice and enslavement of other people globally etc. The discussion got intense but was mostly respectful (and is still ongoing). One comment in particular ignited a gush of responses/reactions. It opened up an opportunity for sensitive conversation and my own thoughts put into words.

The original post/painting (below) included my post:

“I’m feeling very emotional and confused about my artwork and how to respond to the political climate in the US and my own participation in “white privilege.” This is my first painting since the murder of George Floyd and the growing awareness of the intrinsic structural racism in all our institutions. I am struggling with this as an artist and as a human.”

The Moment Of White Privilege Wokeness; Oil on board; 14″ x 18”

The artist comment that sparked sparks:

 “Don’t know what George Floyd has got to do with you painting”

This got number of other artist’s blood boiling, defending and explaining my work for me, and ignited a lengthy discussion-conversation on art and current events. I believe it was/is a necessary thoughtful conduit for all of us to vent, support, teach, reach and grow.

 I would like to include my response for the record to the artist’s question/statement: “Don’t know what George Floyd has got to do with your painting”

“As an artist–I am empathic and try to express what moves me and through me. I question my artwork often to see if it aligns with my life beliefs and life itself. I do not see a difference between my creative process and choices on and/or off the canvas. When a situation occurs that disrupts this process, because it is so hideous and unbelievable–it affects what/how I think is important to express. The fact that George Floyd was brutally “lynched” in the public eye by someone who used his power, given by the people he pledged to protect, in a such a corrupt manner and believed that he would pay no consequences for his actions, harkened back to the Civil Rights movement, the Civil War and the founding of our nation. George Floyd’s death brought this fact into sharper focus than ever before and also laid bare the fact that if there was no video, this policeman would have gotten away with his murder. Black and all people of color have been raging and dying for 400 years, and we (whites) did not listen or act in a manner to make the changes needed to avoid this travesty. I feel that as a comfortable white woman–I have also contributed (although not directly) to this horror. As it has affected my life, as I said above, it affects my artwork. I am just trying to be honest here. It is not up for debate since these are my feelings based on facts. I am sharing among my artist-peers. I am grateful for your comment (name deleted)—I hope this helps clarify why one death affects my creativity.”