“Become comfortable being uncomfortable,” is a phrase I recently saw on a poster in Neenah High School. My son told me it means we lean into the change and growth occurring in our lives. “Become comfortable being uncomfortable”, could be a sign at the entry of the Reflecting Perspectives exhibit on view now at Bergstrom-Mahler Museum of Glass.
When a person enters a concert hall or art museum, we most likely expect to experience the beauty of that art form in its complementary melodies and harmonies and balance of form and hue. We appreciate the celebration of our humanity and the beauty we create, and yet beautiful art isn’t always beautiful. Work that elicits strong emotion, tells the ugly truth and transforms isn’t all sunflowers, blue skies and major triads. It’s uncomfortable. Some art is visceral and raw and meant to bring up topics not heard in polite conversation. This art begs us to go deeper, to seek to understand, to build empathy.
In the Reflecting Perspectives exhibit, ten artists explore themes of racism, gun violence, climate change, civil rights, immigration and LGBTQ rights. In the gallery, we have placed a wall for comments about the exhibit; most comments are positive. Although one visitor questions why they spent their time looking at this art, another writes, “Some of these pieces are disturbing. Some of these pieces are not beautiful. All of these pieces are fantastic.”
Several school groups have visited since the Reflecting Perspectives exhibit went on view in April. Some school groups have avoided the exhibit, because “it is too graphic,” citing the seven-foot beaded figure hung by its ankles, a work by artist, Joyce Scott, entitled “Lynched Tree.” Scott weaves a parallel between the lynching of African Americans in the South and the atrocities humans are committing today against Mother Earth.
Other students were given the opportunity to wrestle with the exhibit’s themes. Many of these students are impressive in their ability to seek to understand the artists’ perspectives and themes in the work, drawing from science and history lessons. They had progressed to asking questions of why? And what does that mean? And where do we go from here?
If a person needs just needs a break from the stress of life and wants to view fields of flowers, that’s understandable. We all do. And yet, I ask you to remember that art isn’t always beautiful. Out of our discomfort we can get to a beautiful space of empathy, inclusion and solutions. Real art makes demands. I invite you to become comfortable being uncomfortable.
Bergstrom-Mahler Museum of Glass
This content first appeared in the Appleton Post Crescent 6/23/2019