"Being a traditional artist is, in my view, a courageous act..."
My mother recently passed away. Being at her bedside, surrounded by our extended family, gave us all some time to reflect. Moments such as these tend to remind us of what is truly important in our lives, and for me it reinforced the importance of community.
Community can be many things. It can be family, it can be religion, it can be neighborhood, and it can be art. Communities can be divisive, separating people along lines of race, gender, age, religion and politics. But I believe that the artistic community is one community that transcends those divisions and brings us together.
During this time of reflection, I realized that this is one of the reasons why I chose to study traditional art. It is all about community. Unlike many art forms, where the emphasis tends to be on individual growth and accomplishment, the traditional arts are about communal growth, about bringing together people, ideas, and aesthetics. The traditional arts are at the very essence of our being. They are the chairs we sit in, the pots we cook in, the dances we dance at our weddings, the hymns we sing at our funerals, and the shawls we wrap around our children. Traditional artists have had to struggle more than some in the modern world where the tendency has been to dismiss their work as rigid and unchanging. If we look closely, however, we can see that these arts are continually in flux, reflecting changes in their communities, embracing new influences, materials and techniques.
Being a traditional artist is, in my view, a courageous act. Eachartist must learn to strike a delicate balance between tradition and modernity, between community aesthetic and individual expression, between artistic impulse and market demand. Traditional artists must not only commit to understanding the inspiration and skills of generations past, but they bear the responsibility of carrying their art form into the future. As scholar and folklorist Steve Siporin has so eloquently stated of these artists: “They connect worlds; they are the active channels through which tradition reaches us in the present. They carry it, they change it, they conserve it. They are it.”
The traditional arts are a very big part of what makes New Mexico so unique, and they need our support.
Robin Farwell Gavin is curator of Museum of Spanish Colonial Art and the Spanish Colonial Arts Society and author of "Converging Streams: Art of the Hispanic and Native American Southwest" (2010).