Mixed Blessings “Telling”

Austin Smith

No matter the type of art, the race or cultural background of the artist, a piece of artwork is always attempting to get a point or message across. This message that the artist strives for can also be referred to as the “telling” aspect, as covered in the Mixed Blessings text. I was not always aware that there was a message in a work of art. This may have contributed to my lack of interest growing up as a child. The beginning of the chapter had this statement which lingered in my thoughts as I read through the chapter. “Telling—the process of understanding and drawing from one’s distinguished past, one’s cultural history, beliefs, and values—is distinguished here from the socialized topsoil of naming.” This lingered mostly because it gave me an insight to the many factors that have to be considered while attempting to understand art.  While reading on I attempted to use these theories while reading about Houston Conwill. Houston Conwill combined both African religions and mythologies with a perspective of a Catholic upbringing. This is remarkable to me from the start because of my knowledge of Catholics generally are and how strict they can be considered when comparing them to other religions. Using the theology of “Telling” I tried to understand why a man would try to make such a connection. He thought that singing and drawing were the pint of connection and used this to go beyond an initial thought or reaction to the artwork. After hearing of his doings I attempted to analyze his reasoning. My analysis was that he connected something so different and controversial so that it could tell a story which would reflect in a real world setting. It was to show that even people of different backgrounds could ultimately find something in common and compliment on it to become something more than men who have to live with one another. The only way for something as controversial as segregation to be diminished would be through the process of understanding and uniting. It was a message that yes men are different, but that is no reason to find where men are alike, and to take the best of both to create a society that no man has ever seen. I believe through my interpretation that Houston Conwill was a man of peace, and told this story through his connections. I believe every artist tells a story, and I look forward to digging deeper and trying to develop an eye for spotting connections.



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3 Responses to Mixed Blessings “Telling”

  1. Jayme Walker

    Much like Austin, as a child I did not have an aspiring interest in art. If I happened to come into contact with art, I only glanced over it briefly and saw the obvious characteristics about it. I never truly looked deeper into art, or chose to analyze art until college, or more specifically, until I began taking courses within New Century College. The courses I have taken so far in NCC have helped me to think outside of the box, to analyze things that I come into contact with, and to dig deeper with my overall thinking to truly understand something. With art specifically, I have learned that every artist had a purpose in creating his or her artwork, whether that be to create something beautiful, or to express something that is important to them, their art often serves as their voice, or a way for them to “tell.” Through reading “Telling”, I was able to learn even more about certain factors that contribute to an artist’s work. The mentioning of an African American messenger and teacher, Adrian Piper, especially inspired me. Adrian Piper traveled with a series of performances called “Funk Lessons”, performances in which she would speak professionally about the origins of Funk, and then gave dance lessons. “As she studied this music from the heart of the black working class, with its obviously African roots, Piper realized her own whole-hearted identification with it. She had been listening to Funk and dancing to it for years before she discovered the aversion many white-people felt to its multilayered polyrhythms: ‘I was not, in fact, as assimilated into white society as I had always thought.’ Funk became more than an esthetic vehicle for revelations about her own social/racial situation. As the possibilities for political confrontation because more vivid, she began to use the music and dance as a communicative vehicle across the barriers of difference, as a wedge into the consciousness of those who could, at least, move to music.” (71). Adrian Piper was able to use the art of dance and music to bridge a gap between black and white people, something that I find to be very inspirational and her way of “telling” helped me to see that art is a way that people, of different colors, sizes, genders, and kinds can come together through art.

  2. Lacey DeAngelis says:

    As a child, I was always interested in the meaning behind a piece of art, but rarely had the opportunity to explore such a curiosity within my schooling years. As I entered college, I started taking Art History classes, which explored more of the more popular or “high art” throughout history. When I continued my education at Mason I was excited to see I had an opportunity to take more art classes, dealing with learning about artist and their artwork that I knew little or nothing about. The book Mixed Blessings so far has helped me look at art in different ways than I have in the past. Chapter two of Mixed Blessings talks about the process of “Telling”, a process in which people understand and draw strength from their pasts, cultural history, beliefs, and values. Through reading this chapter, I was inspired by many of the artist and how they reflected such things as their past, history, beliefs, and values in many of their artworks. For example, David Hammons, an artist that I have learned very little about in the past, is an African-American, Maverick sculptor artist that uses litter on the streets of Harlem to create his artworks. His installations are for the Harlem community to see and receive inspirational and powerful messages. Hammons said, “I do my street art mainly to keep rooted in that ‘who I am’.” P.64 Hammons work not only reflects his history and culture of living in Harlem; it also reflects his values and beliefs within his community and as an African American artist. Hammons art pieces are important because they send such powerful messages about who he is and how he perceives life. He takes art to the street and displays it for everybody to enjoy, allowing them to have an opportunity explore the process of “telling”. He is an artist that I have gained more interested in and has inspired me to reflect on how I see myself and my community.

  3. Sarah Rose

    The chapter “Telling,” explains, and shows, many example of how culture, history, beliefs, and values play a strong role in a lot of art that we are exposed to. I feel that many of the pieces in the book can be appreciated without knowing the message behind them, but once one is able to hear the story or influence of the art it is an enlightening experience. One Piece in the book that really caught my eye was “Tolido,” by Celia Alvarez Munoz. I felt this piece was aesthetically appealing at first glance, but after I read the information about it I felt I had a better understanding of the piece and was able to get an idea of what the piece really meant and was trying to convey. This piece is a small house in front of a large picture with a story on it. I believe she created the story because she claims to come from a family of story tellers, so she is drawing from her past. She created most of her art based on her background and experiences, even after going to college and getting an education (p 100). She talks about this use of background in her explanation of the piece, “Tolido deals with value systems, with material values as buried treasures that might literally or symbolically be trash. It is also very much about the adaption of one culture from another,“ (100). The art became completely new to me after understanding what the message the artist wanted to get across. Although I really appreciated the art and the telling, I don’t feel I was influenced by it in creating my self-portrait. I don’t think the identity I chose reflected culture, beliefs, or values. I did look on past experiences when creating my identity but not as a very large influence or it.

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