Art for the People

It’s raining this morning, which means that the art on Market Square is probably already gone, washed off the concrete. I would like to have been there to watch the pictures turn into rivulets and puddles of color as the portraits, landscapes, and fanciful scenes disappeared. Walking the Square this weekend was a wonder-full experience, watching artists of all ages at work and seeing what they brought to this year’s Chalk Walk.

Here are just a few images:


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What they brought included Pat Summitt, and Stephan Curry, and a pipe-smoking bear, and a little girl with a flower, and a woman’s face and hands pressed against a window, and a pond full of fish, and Rosetti’s muse, and a trombone player, and a toucan with a gigantic beak, and a woman’s face framed in dogwood blossoms, and dozens more, some whimsical, some serious, filling the Square and extending into Krutch Park. There was also an area marked off with more than a hundred small squares just for young children to let their imaginations go, and in many places not set aside for the Chalk Walk there was spontaneous art of all kinds, quick sketches and messages to no one and everyone.

The weather was perfect and the art was free, my favorite daughter and son-in-law were in town and joined us for a while, and Suzanne and I made it to Yassin’s Falafel House just before the lunch rush. All in all, Saturday was a very good day.

When I was a young man I took pleasure in making fun of Knoxville, with its moribund downtown area, uncontrolled sprawl to the west, and single-minded emphasis on college football. I feel differently now, partly because as I get older I see less and less purpose in passing judgment on most things, and partly because Knoxville is changing (as all cities do). Perhaps the most hopeful change I have seen is the making of art available to the people.

I have come to believe that art is essential to the life of a society; it helps define us, shows us beauty in both expected and unexpected places, pokes and prods us and makes us uncomfortable, and gives us a glimpse into things that only artists see clearly. One of the reasons that art can save a society from itself when it turns rigid and lifeless is that it cannot be contained. It can and sometimes has been driven underground, but the artist is always there, always offering us things that otherwise would escape our notice. While it is true that there are pompous, self-centered artists (as is some small part of every group I’ve ever been associated with), when they get it right, artists of all kinds – painters, sculptors, writers, musicians, and all the others – give us something no one else can. They show us what we need to see.

So when Knoxville does things like Chalk Walk, and WDVX’s Blue Plate Special, and the sculptures in Krutch Park and other places in the city, and Shakespeare on the Square, and the summer concert series, the city is doing more than entertaining us. It is feeding us.

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A career working with teenagers on the fringes of society has made me both sensitive to and appreciative of the complexities of character and the struggles, inner and outer, that we all wrestle with in one form or another. My writing emphasizes character development over action, and, as a lifelong Southerner, the rhythms and cadence of the Southeastern United States influence both my spoken and written voice.

2 thoughts on “Art for the People

  1. Jim, I share your opinion that Knoxville has a lot to feed us. For a small city, it does a remarkable job of creating a space for art, music, eclectic celebration and all things that bring life to a community. I love your new home picture! What a gorgeous place you live!


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