Art and Memes

We gather around the plate of glass onto which light purple, blue, and yellow paint is dabbed, overlaid on a picture in a magazine. Garth Freeman let us loose on the paints and paper after he spoke about his experiences as a collage artist. This method he introduced of plate glass printing allows free expression of color, replicability, and intertextual interaction between existing media like magazines, or copies of the Lamron, and us as the artists.

When I was younger I drew Pokemon, monsters, animals and my favorite manga characters. Children do not judge their work the way I do now, when I’m aware and dismayed of the gap between the art I make and the art I enjoy (awareness of this gap comes from the creative writing teacher Jess Fenn, who got it from NPR’s Ira Glass). Dr. Freeman commented on this difficulty with drawing as well. Figure drawing is a skill that takes practice, like playing a musical instrument. When Steve Prince spoke about teaching art he also emphasized the dedication needed to create line drawings like his. The painting and and multimedia collage that we did skirted this issue. This is not to take away from collage. The exercise encouraged problem solving with color, working collaboratively in a group, and thinking about the meanings created by the intersections of different pieces. The experience inspired me to acquire a set of cheap paints and paper, to do it again on my own and rekindle the generative spark.

One night when I couldn’t fall asleep, I got up and painted these two pictures. Paint glided slickly across the paper; bristles imitated the exact texture of the leaves I wanted, I racked my brain for variations of flowery shapes. It felt so exciting! I took a picture on my phone and thus the paintings I made are shareable across the internet.

I wonder where the paintings the class made end up? I believe Garth Freeman took them home, to possibly display in Rochester. I would like some follow up if they are public somewhere and not lost to the void.

I was thinking about connections to that class period and the Du Bois chapter “The Passing of the First Born.” I came up with the idea of a failed replication (which I hope isn’t insensitive) but the boy is described as having paler eyes and golden hair, as if the color ink had run out of a printer. It’s a heartbreaking chapter because of the intense love he has for the lost baby, for example on page 190 he laments, “The wretched of my race that line the alleys of the nation sit fatherless and unmothered; but Love sat beside his cradle, and in his ear Wisdom waited to speak.” which made me tear up.

The replicability of the glass plate paintings connects with Prince’s media of woodcut prints. We take replication for granted on the internet. A “meme” is a term originally coined by Richard Dawkins in his 1976 book The Selfish Gene, to encapsulate the genelike replication of human culture. Memes spread within our online communities. Within the communities that Prince fosters his art spreads the messages, or “meme” if you will, of black experiences throughout history. His painting “Rosa Sparks, 1955” is an example of this “dense pack” method because figures/representative symbols of Martin Luther King, Malcom X, Emmet Till, and Eric Garner populate the bus along with Rosa Parks in the painting. Prince repeats his idiosyncratic symbols throughout various works, he repeats poses found in other paintings in the canon of fine art, and he replicates history in general, often with his own recontextualization of the idea. His paintings are so fascinating and difficult partially because of these layers of references that he shares with communities, which then adds to the history and repeats on and on. Discussing his art in the class and interpreting it through our eyes is an extension of this repetition.

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