Artists To Know: ArtPrize 2018 Edition!

I just made the last weekend of ArtPrize this year, and though to me it seemed like the venues had less art in them than usual, there were still some standout projects! Keep in mind I was only able to be in Grand Rapids for a day this year, so I by no means saw near everything. Of what I did see, the following were my favorites.

Rynita Shepherd, Sex Ability: Smashing Stereotypes With Sex Appeal

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In approaching this piece, I experienced firsthand why I always tell people that when visiting a gallery or museum you absolutely should not just breeze by the artwork, but actually take the time to stop in front of each piece for at least 3 minutes. Looking at this series from way across the room, I thought it was just a set of typical boudoir photos. I am tattling on myself right now and admitting I assumed they were photos taken by a man, probably with some cringey artist statement about “appreciating female beauty”, and proceeded to internally rolled my eyes a bit. Then I actually walked right up to it and looked, and realized that first of all these are NOT photos! These were drawings with a story. Shepherd has a rare condition called Arthrogryposis which causes her to have limited mobility in her arms and legs. Because of this, she uses her mouth to draw. All of the women in these portraits have the same condition. Shepherd says, that society expects so little of people with disabilities, and that, “We are completely discredited as sexy, capable women by society due to our physical differences. We have the same hopes, dreams, and desires. We are every woman.” What a powerful statement, as this artist places the unseen right in our faces, and smashes stereotypes about disability!

Mher Khachatryan, Jesus

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I remember this artist’s work from the 2 previous years he was featured at ArtPrize due to his trademark effect of having his images trail off into wisps of smoke and vapor. I’d encourage you to visit his artist profile and look at last year’s tribute to 9/11. Everyone remembers those paintings of a Jesus looking wistfully to the sky, with long eyelashes and glossy auburn hair that every Grandma had hanging in her dining room at one point … This is not that. Khachatryan is from Armenia though he now lives in the US, and wrote lovingly in his artist bio about being able to see one of the first churches ever built in his home country. I can actually see the emotional, spiritual, and cultural connection the artist had to this subject as I look at this piece. The light, airy, glowing feel he has achieved using oil paints and mainly dark black at that is no small feat. I saw many viewers stop and audibly gasp in wonder as they approached this large scale painting. For your art to have that kind of power is a beautiful thing.

John Gutoskey, PULSE Nightclub: 49 Elegies 

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I adore mixed media, and this series stopped me dead in my tracks. Each piece individually is intriguing and beautiful, but hung together the viewer feels immersed and transported. This series uses monoprints to commemorate each of the 49 people massacred at PULSE nightclub in Orlando, Florida in the summer of 2016. The series is rife with symbolism encompassing the themes of grief in the wake of a tragedy, and violence against LGBTQ individuals and people of color.

Daniel Robert Mattson, Sideshow

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I appreciate so many things about this piece, and would encourage you to click on the link to the artist’s ArtPrize profile to read all he has to say about it. This surreal allegory feels like such a release from the built up tension I know I have been experiencing in our current political environment. It is bipartisan, and Robert has made a piece rich with symbolism though even in his bio he will not divulge everything that was going through his mind, preferring to let the viewer think for themselves – a truly American sentiment. Robert said that “This particular piece has haunted me years”, and it does make a startling picture of our society, one that is not to be desired. However, if we can recognize it and call it what it is, then we can change it.

Kimberly Wolz, Rainbow Connection

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In this piece, Wolz created a ton of small, square pieces of art featuring quilled paper animals and plant life arranged in color order using Fibonacci’s golden ratio. It is meant to represent harmony, and I have heard that the paper quilling process itself can be quite calming, meditative, and harmonious. The detail is exquisite, especially to someone like me who couldn’t even make a paper crane during an origami craft lesson as a kid!

George Cooley and Margaret Brostrom, Human Targets

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This collaborative series confronts the psychological affects of using human targets. seven pieces exploring the dehumanizing qualities of human targets. The artists believe that using human shaped targets desensitizes the shooter towards real violence, and go as far to say practicing on human targets is premeditation for murder – In weapons training and competitions using these targets, more points are awarded for shots that would “kill” a real human in the area the competitors are aiming to hit. I am so far removed from recreational or even protective gun use that I honestly hadn’t a clue that these were the targets most commonly used at shooting ranges … No one in my family hunts, and growing up no one in my household was ever the least bit interested in owning a firearm even for protective use. I have never been to a shooting range, and always pictured targets as the little red and white concentric circles like Katniss Everdeen may use to practice her bow and arrow. It’s a lot to think about, and this artwork starts an important conversation. The artists produced over 50 target artworks, and chose 7 for the final display. I do a lot of series myself, and am impressed by their commitment to put their strongest work forward for this important and relevant issue.

This post comes a bit late, but I hope you all enjoyed learning about some new art and artists. Have an inspiring evening!

 

 

 

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Henri Matisse – Creative Minds Art History Project

Another week, another artist! I shared my Van Gogh project last week. In week 2 we covered Henri Matisse. His personal story really resonated with the students, being a group of adults with varying disabilities.

Matisse spent the majority of his artistic career as a painter, being one of the leaders of the Fauvism movement in the early 1900s. Fauvism is characterized by a painterly, non-realistic representation of people and objects and a strong use of bold “crayola crayon” colors. Unblended strokes of pure color divide objects from their background rather than shading. He wanted his art to be calming and cheerful, an escape from the world’s troubles. In 1941, everything changed when Matisse was diagnosed with cancer and had to have surgery. His life was saved, but from that point forward he required the use of a wheelchair for mobility, and struggled with dexterity. Matisse famously said, “Creativity takes courage“, and at the age of 72 no matter how he had changed physically, he refused to give up on creating. He shifted gears to a cut paper collage format for his work as painting was harder to manage with his dexterity changes, creating yet another influential body of work. He ended up liking this new, modern style even better than what he had been working on before, and you can still see similar shapes, styles, and color schemes taken from his paintings and applied to his collage works, such as the organic leaf shapes. His final project was stained glass windows for the Chapelle du Rosaire de Vence as seen pictured above, designed in his iconic collage style.

Though the term disability pride wasn’t part of our vocabulary at the time Matisse was alive, I think his legacy perfectly embodies this concept. He did not look at disability as a barrier, but an opportunity to innovate.

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For our project, we created beautiful decoupage bowls inspired by Matisse’s paper cut works. I chose to focus specifically on shapes present in his chapel design, though if you do an image search of his collage work you could find many other ideas. I cut patterns out of some scrap matte board for the students to trace. We used colored printer paper for the cutouts – It is thin enough to be able to bend along the round shape of the bowl without popping back up or creating massive wrinkles, but thick enough that the color of the bowl won’t show through. We used matte Mod Podge to apply and seal the shapes onto the bowl, and the bowls themselves were picked up at the dollar store, making this a ridiculously inexpensive project with beautiful results.

This would be a fun project to do with all ages from kids to seniors, and makes for a great gift idea if planned closer to the holidays or Mother’s Day. Since Mod Podge is not food safe, obviously you do not want to try to eat cereal out of these or something ;), but they are a perfect catch all for jewelry, keys, pens pencils and paperclips, or change. Also a cute decoration when filled with decorative orbs, glass marbles, or stones. I love color, and may just have to make one of these for myself at home!

A Month In The Life of An (Almost) 30 Year Old Artist

Well, I missed posting this month’s Artsnacks unboxing, which is unfortunate as March is Artsnack’s birthday month as well as my own! I still did a very late Artsnacks challenge art journal entry (this morning, actually ;)), and I swear I had good reason! This month has been a busy one, and just kind of flew by in a blur.

Since the end of last year, I’ve had trouble getting any art really going. I started a handful of things, but then got stumped and had to put them away until who knows when. Artist’s block is common, but I have not experienced such a thing for a long time. It’s weird, and I don’t like it.

Since I don’t have any big personal projects that are going anywhere, I figured this was the perfect time to go out on a limb and try something new. When I saw a call for proposals on my local city, Saginaw MI’s Art and About facebook page for their Painted Piano Project, I knew I had to enter just to have a new art goal to work towards. Only 12 entries would be selected, so I didn’t go into this with any expectation of being chosen, and figured it would just be fun to give it a try. I was shocked to not only find out I was chosen, but that my entry won 3rd place for People’s Choice while they were displayed at the Saginaw Art Museum! Guys, I have never won people’s choice anything since the time I tried to run for student council secretary in 5th grade and got the least number of votes, despite my very impressive posters. Generally, popular opinion and I are not friends or even distant acquaintances, so, I will consider my life experience padded.

The project is exactly what it sounds like … I will be covering a piano with my artwork very soon! I may live to regret the level of detail I have committed myself to, but I don’t do simple. My instrument has yet to be delivered, but I will definitely keep everyone updated as I begin the process! The pianos will be scattered throughout the city all summer, available for people to play.

Some other adventures this month are the Midland Artists Guild Annual Juried Exhibition, which I look forward to every year.

This time around, I am so grateful to have been awarded 2nd place overall for my piece, “July: She Is Free”, one from my “Unlimited” series that is very close to my heart. I hope to continue to open minds and push the bounds of what beauty and empowerment look like through my art.

Another highlight of this month, my boyfriend and I finally got to see our favorite play live! This after going to a whimsical arcade bar and overdosing on 90s nostalgia with the X-Men Arcade game and some N64 Mario Kart, so basically the perfect early-birthday trip.

I know traditionally a lot of mourning goes on leading up to one’s 30th birthday, but I have to say this has been a pretty epic month so far, so bring it on!

 

 

 

Meet the Newest (Paper Doll) Cool Girl!

I have waxed poetic about my love of paper dolls in the past, and am happy to announce the first new member to my squad in a couple of years.

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Following the traditional format of my other paper doll pages, Kady comes wearing a swimsuit with accessories that include an animal companion, a dressy outfit, a casual outfit, a jacket, and an outfit having to do with a profession or hobby. My girls have run the gamut from astronaut, to scientist, to artist, to baker, and athlete … presidential candidate was the obvious next move :). Kady 2020!

 

Since a lot of the fun is sharing clothes with other dolls, I am currently working on a second doll who uses a wheelchair as well that Kady will be able to swap clothes with, named Isla. Isla will come with some fun fantasy based outfits such as a fairy and princess costume, and may or may not have a pet dragon named Electra in tow ;).

What I always loved about dolls as a kid, be they paper dolls or Barbies, was having dolls that all looked completely different from each other so that each was their own unique character with their own backstory, interests, and personality when I played out my epic imaginative tales. I want to continue expanding my collection so that everyone can have a doll that looks like them, but also a bunch that don’t!

All of my paper doll sets are available at a brick and mortar location inside Imagine That! in downtown Midland MI for those in the area, and also online in my Ebay Store.

Artists To Know: Amazing Artist and Designer Parents

In homage to this season where we honor parents through mother’s and father’s day, I wanted to highlight successful artists with families. There is this widely accepted perception that artists (especially women artists) can’t be successful if they start families. The stereotype of the the lone artist dedicated to their craft, eschewing any and all serious relationships lest it distract them from their ultimate purpose of creation still reigns supreme. Acclaimed feminist artist Marina Abramovic has repeatedly spoken in interviews about how having children holds artists back and is a disaster especially for women’s careers. However, isn’t viewing parenting, a role that is traditionally considered feminine, as less then an inherently sexist view? Disclaimer, this is all coming from someone who actually doesn’t want kids! However, it boggles my mind that being an involved parent is often looked at in society as “doing nothing” or underachieving one’s potential. I never thought about it much when I was a kid or teen myself, but how much of a full time job parenting truly is has really hit home for me as friends of mine are beginning to have children, and I see and hear firsthand about their experiences. Even with pretty awesome, well behaved kids, parenting is a 24 hour job. After 18-20 years, the hours may be cut back a little but really it doesn’t end there, it’s a lifetime commitment, and a vocation that is far from “nothing”.

Abramovic made headlines and sparked heated debate when she told German newspaper Der TAgesspiegel: “In my opionon, having children is the reason why women aren’t as successful as men in the art world. There are plenty of talented women. Why do men take over the important positions? It’s simple. Love, family children – a woman doesn’t want to sacrifice all of that”. The following amazing artists and designers with kids prove that you don’t have to.

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Mark Ryden,  forerunner of the pop surrealism movement, used his daughter as the model for this famous (or to some infamous) piece, Rosie’s Tea Party. The painting ended up in the middle of some controversy over the inclusion of Catholic symbols embedded in the piece. Asked amidst the uproar whether he felt people were imposing their own interpretations on his work, Ryden responded, “There are many symbolic meanings in my art that I myself am not necessarily conscious of. The most powerful meanings in art come from another source outside an artist’s own literal consciousness. To me, tapping into this world is the key to the making the most interesting art. Some people find my refusal to explain everything in my work deeply dissatisfying. They can’t stand mystery. They need to literalize it all and tie it up in a neat little package”. As someone who has had people misinterpret the intent of some of my work based on their own bias and subsequently fly off the handle over it, I can empathize. Wrongfully interpreted or not, I am also very against censorship in general and feel people need to be able to handle being confronted with things they don’t always agree with. Ryden’s wife Marion Peck is a successful working artist as well.

 

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Jason Lee, a wedding photographer working in San Francisco, started this project in 2006 when his mother became ill. Because of the need to be careful about germs, her granddaughters’ visiting was restricted. Lee started a blog with these whimsical photos because he wanted his mother to still feel connected to what was going on in the girls’ lives, and he also wished to give her something that would cheer her up and make her laugh. Lee collaborated with his elementary aged daughters to come up with a host of ideas for surreal, comical photoshoots to share with their grandmother. More of the creative and adorable results can be seen here.

 

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Remy Coutarel is an illustrator from France, now residing in Seattle. He sites his young twin boys as a constant source of inspiration for his work, especially with his children’s book illustrations. His cheerful and imaginative illustrations span a variety of styles and subject matter, all with a recognizable sense of movement and unique character creation.

 

 

Children’s clothing line Princess Awesome got its beginning on kickstarter, the collaboration of two moms and good friends, elementary educator Rebecca Melsky and stay-at-home mom, part-time web developer, and seamstress Eva St. Clair. Melsky had a daughter who loved cars and dinosaurs, but would only wear skirts or dresses. Of course, there were no patterns of cars, trains, or prehistoric beasts to be found anywhere except the boys’ section. The two moms saw a gap in the clothing market, and decided to fill it. They started bringing their designs to craft bazaars, not sure whether other parents would like their designs that featured fabric patterns far different from what could be found in the typical girls’ section in department stores. The clothes sold out immediately, and they started getting orders. St. Clair also home schools her 4 children (She’s basically a superhero), and the two knew there was no way they’d be able to keep up with one person sewing out of their home, which is when they turned to kickstarter to fund their business. The rest is history. I love this company. As I think of myself as a child, one who was also not a fan of wearing pants and liked playing with dinosaur figures and matchbox cars and collecting  bugs and rocks just as much as playing with Barbies, I know I would have adored these clothes. Most clothing companies that pop up as an alternative to the typical “girls section” fare tend to veer entirely in the opposite direction of no pink, and no dresses, so that the girls in the middle who may love  stereotypical “boy” things and stereotypical “girly” things end up left out. The company even makes scarves for adults featuring the fun fabrics covering their kids clothing. I need that dinosaur scarf ASAP.

 

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Independence day clothing is another line of designs created by a mom that saw a need that wasn’t being filled, and rose to the challenge. ABC news interviewed designer Lauren Theirry in 2015, shining a spotlight on the new company that aims to provide accessible and fashionable clothing to the autistic community. Theirry was a financial news anchor for over a decade before she decided to make the change to becoming an advocate for autism full time. Theirry had no fashion design experience when she started, but she had been helping her son with autism get dressed for 17 years and knew what others like him needed in a piece of clothing. Because people with autism often have issues with fine motor skills and can also have heightened senses, zippers and buttons or rougher fabrics can be extremely vexing and uncomfortable for them. Theirry decided that people with autism, “… deserve better than T-shirts and baggy sweatpants.” She designed a line of clothing in soft fabrics that feature no zippers, buttons, or laces that men and women with autism could easily take on and off themselves. All designs are also completely reversible with no defined front or back side, and are not designed to be gender specific, so that everyone can feel confident and comfortable while wearing them.

 

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The Huffington Post interviewed this last fashion entrepreneur, who is not just a designer mother but a designer grandmother. Karen Bowersox already had business experience from running her husband’s medical practice, but the decision to dive headfirst into the clothing business at 65 was inspired by her granddaughter with down syndrome, Maggie. Finding clothing that fit Maggie’s proportions properly was always a struggle for Karen’s daughter, especially with jeans or pants. Maggie’s family was not alone in this. Having no prior fashion experience, Bowersox reached out to designer Jillian Jankovsky in order to start her own company tailored specifically to children and adults with down syndrome, then called Downs Designs. Bowersox’s company was rebranded in 2016 to NBZ Apparel International after it expanded to provide jeans and slacks not only for people with down syndrome but individuals with other varying disabilities as well, including styles with no buttons or zippers for those struggling with fine motor skills. Bowersox wants people who look at her granddaughter and all individuals with disabilities to see the person first, not the disability first. She believes having clothing that individuals with disabilities can feel comfortable and confident in and that fits correctly is the first step. In the interview with Huffington Post, Bowersox said, “I can’t believe I’m changing the world, all with a pair of jeans“.

These artists, illustrators, and designers are successful because of  their family, not despite them, and their children have inspired them to generate ideas they would not have come up with otherwise. Don’t let others define what limits your potential based on their own fears and prejudices, and to all the parents out there, thank you!

 

New Art! 2 Down 2 To Go!

Struck by both some luckily timed inspiration and ever looming deadlines, I have buckled down on my series and completed 2 more pieces, which means only 2 more to go! I actually think these 2 new ones are among my favorites so far. Series-explanation-blurb time for those new readers! “Unlimited” is composed of 12 mixed media portraits in which the meaning is influenced by the use of pattern and color. Women of all ages, races, and time periods are depicted, each communicating a different theme. I aim for the pieces to speak to women’s collective experiences beyond their differences. We tend to think of time and events in terms of our own personal history or the history of the nation in which we reside. But of course, there are women everywhere living out their day to day life all over the world, with hopes, dreams, fears , relationships. Our situations and struggles are very different, but were we in some alternate reality all given a chance to meet, I suspect we would find some surprising similarities, maybe more than we ever expected. Pieces are primarily drawing and painting, accented with mixed media elements and metallic details.

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For the above, titled “October: She Is Full of Curiosity”, I incorporated a lot more mixed media elements which I felt meshed well with the “vintage study” atmosphere of the background. I used quilting fabric for the wallpaper, leather upholstery samples for the book cover, decoupaged book pages for the inside pages and title, an art book clipping for the picture on the wall, ink for the woodwork, watercolor for the outdoor scene, lace overlay for the girl’s collar, metallic acrylic for her hair, and prismacolor pencil for most of the figure and clothing.

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In this next piece, titled “July: She Is Free In Mind and Spirit”, I took almost the opposite approach, not using any fabric or found object materials and sticking solely to the traditional art materials of prismacolor pencil, watercolor, and acrylic paint. I’d had all the pieces for my series pre-planned as far as composition and subject matter since late 2015. However, this one took flight (haha, bad pun) on its own quite recently after I realized that I had a variety of ages and races represented in my planned artworks, but not a variety of abilities. Given that I work with an art program that serves individuals with disabilities, this oversight stopped me in my tracks. I’m always harping on inclusion and the lack of representation of people with disabilities in the public and entertainment sphere to anyone who will listen (and even those who don’t want to sometimes), and yet I realized they were not included in my project that was all about inclusion, unity, and representation. I was thus tasked with coming up with a visible disability that could be seen in just a head and shoulders portrait rather than a full body rendering. This lively young woman with down syndrome who exudes confidence, energy, and life evolved over the incredibly short course of two interrupted days with no pre-planning or sketching beforehand which is very uncommon for me. I don’t know that anyone else will see it, but this piece definitely holds the most emotional connection for me.

For more deeply personal and unconventional portraits, check out self-taught contemporary artist Stephen Martyn Welch’s “Everyone Deserves A Portrait” series inspired by his son who was born with Kabuki Syndrome. Keep checking for the last two! I’m on a roll ;)!

Art That Celebrates Life

Let’s be honest guys, the world is a mess right now. The world is not without hope, not without flashes of brightness, joy, and kindness, but we must admit situations could be better. Our world has a lot of problems; I would argue not any more problems than it has had in the past, just new and different problems that come with a changing world. It makes sense that with all the doom and gloom in the news day in and day out, it is easy for people to get overwhelmed. Unable to deal in their own mind with all the issues being plummeted towards them at once, they develop a sort of tunnel vision. With tunnel vision towards one particular issue, we get the culture wars, two sides so obsessed with one particular facet of our society that they are dissatisfied with that everything else, all the other big, important things that also need our help and attention, fall by the sidelines in favor of childish bickering. One of the worst examples of tunnel vision I’ve seen is the right to life debates.

Comedian and social critic George Carlin said of members of the pro-life movement in a well known monologue, Pro-Life, Abortion, and And The Sanctity of Life, “They’re all in favor of the unborn. They will do anything for the unborn. But once you’re born, you’re on your own. Pro-life conservatives are obsessed with the fetus from conception to nine months. After that, they don’t want to know about you. They don’t want to hear from you. No nothing. No neonatal care, no day care, no head start, no school lunch, no food stamps, no welfare, no nothing. If you’re pre-born, you’re fine; if you’re preschool, you’re f*****.” 

That may be hard to hear, and no, I’m sure it doesn’t ring true of every pro-life supporter out there. But unfortunately, most individuals that tout a pro-life belief are deeply lacking in a holistic advocacy for all of life. This can be seen clearly in this past election, which I know everyone is sick to death of hearing about, but it is important. The number one reason I have heard for why individuals didn’t vote for Hilary Clinton was her stance on abortion. Now, I am by no means a ride or die Hilary fan. Both candidates had issues, it is which had more that was a matter of personal opinion. However, think about this: people were saying they can’t vote for Hilary because she is a “murderer” based on her belief that the government should not outlaw abortion, though she personally believes it is a morally complicated issue. However, the alternative candidate’s first course of action that he just can’t wait to get started on as our new chief is to yank away the ACA, a provision that has allowed people with life threatening conditions and chronic or mental illness to be able to afford the care they need to, quite simply, not die. It was not perfect, but its impact was still not to be downplayed, as you can see from the many personal stories on Faces Of The ACA, a website started by a woman who credits surviving cancer to the Affordable Care Act.  As someone who works with individuals with disabilities and chronic illness, it is heartbreaking to see the people I care about fearing for their life and their future. Our new VP advocates for the psychological and at times even physical torture of LGBT youth in an effort to “change” them, often leading to eventual suicidal acts. But wait, with this option we were supposed to have “chosen life”. Many people knew of these concerns beforehand, and just couldn’t find it in themselves to care. This is the danger of tunnel vision.

Catholic nun Sister Joan Chittister‘s words have famously made their rounds in the media over this past year, “I do not believe that just because you’re opposed to abortion, that that makes you pro-life. In fact, I think in many cases, your morality is deeply lacking if all you want is a child born but not a child fed, not a child educated, not a child housed. And why would I think that you don’t? Because you don’t want any tax money to go there. That’s not pro-life. That’s pro-birth. We need a much broader conversation on what the morality of pro-life is.”

I wonder if we don’t focus on unborn babies because it is easier and less messy to care about someone who doesn’t exist yet, rather than the people who we already cross paths with in our day or hear about in the news, but who may be different from us, may be hard to understand, may make us uncomfortable, may have cultures or views or lifestyles that are different from ours.

Art speaks, so below, I would like to share a selection of impactful art that celebrates all life. I’m not telling anyone they have to stop caring about the things that they do; you have the right to your beliefs just as I do mine. However, I’d ask that you make an honest effort to open your scope and act on what you see, because there are so many who have already been thrust into life on this earth that need your help and support.

Illustrator Cloudy Thurstag – A beautiful visual reminder of the value of self care, important for everyone but especially relevant to those suffering with chronic or mental illness.

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Model Yazemeenah Rossi –  Because beauty, confidence, and poise doesn’t have an age limit.

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Stencil Artists Icy and Sot” using public art to envision a world freed from borders, war and gun violence.”

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Dancer Mary Verdi-Fletcher – There is more than one way to dance; innovation has no limits.

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Artist Joel Bergner in Collaboration With Syrian Refugee Children In The Za’Atari Camp In Jordan – Exploring conflict, dreams, fear, conservation, generosity, and hope together through art.

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If you have thoughts, feel free to share. Deep discussion can be quite a rush :D.