Updated: Nov 20
The first Thanksgiving occurred in 1621 when the Mayflower pilgrims sat down for a three-day meal with the Wampanoag. 19th-century artworks depict Native Americans as savages with woven blankets and large feather headdresses. One well-known classic example is a 1912 Jean Leon Gerome Ferris's painting of an idealized view of English settlers and Native Americans celebrating their first harvest feast in friendship. The popular narrative of Thanksgiving between the native American and the pilgrims is more of a romantic myth than truth. In fact, Thanksgiving for some Native Americans invokes ideas of racism, violence, and genocide. But rather than skip the family gathering, they have evolved it into a traditional gathering known as Unthanksgiving Day. Yet, they gather and celebrate each other. Likewise, our modern holiday also contains a wide element of myth. While it may have significantly deviated from its origins, the idea of a national celebration still rallies tribes and families together.
In the modern day, 20th-century artist Norman Rockwell is attributed to painting one of the most iconic modern ideals of Thanksgiving, titled "Freedom From Want," appearing in the Saturday Evening Post in 1943. It depicts a white, middle-class family seated around a crisply adorned dinner table. Indeed, this is not entirely accurate either. Many American families today are diverse in color, do not wear ties to the diner, and are struggling. The turkey is never that large, and the smiles are perhaps not authentic. Art shapes these myths but provides a framework for discussing untruths and truths. In both these scenarios, the Indian savages, the 19th-century gathering, and the 20th-century picture-perfect family myth, one thing remains constant—the need for people to come together for fellowship. Thanksgiving, Christmas, and the New Year do not need to bring happiness for all, but they provide an opportunity for self-discovery and growth by defining what you are and are not. As I pondered this deep thought, I realized how much this is like the practice of making art.
Preparing for a holiday :
Like a holiday, Preparing a painting requires a great deal of preparation. In the simplest of terms, it is choosing a subject and composition followed by drawing, blocking in, adding color, adding layers, and finishing. This requires years of close observation, study, and trial and error. And in the end, it is often only given a glance and is wholly unappreciated. Similarly, a holiday meal requires excellent effort. For example, grocery store shopping, slicing, dicing, silver polishing, table setting, and. All for a single meal that could easily be replaced by a bowl of cereal. Is it worth the energy? While I cannot answer that question for you, I will tell you that for me, the answer is a resounding yes. Yes to the painting, and yes to the holiday.
We all know we should count our blessings and be grateful, but occasionally this all feels like lip service rather than genuine sentiment. What about that year? We don't feel like it. Can we skip it? Of course, we can, but should we? I would argue no... It is our duty to lean in even when it is more challenging to discover who we are. This is the same as when a creative doesn't feel like creating. The solution is the same. Do it anyway. Can we skip it? Of course, we can, but should we? I would argue no... It is our duty to lean in even more challenging to discover who we are. This is the same as when a creative doesn't feel like creating. The solution is the same. Do it anyway.
Both painting a picture and preparing for a gathering require getting down to the business of starting. It doesn't matter if a painting is a flop or a meal comes out burnt; it is the process from which most learning and understanding are derived. At the beginning of the holiday season, I often do not feel like a hassle and want nothing more than to hibernate on my cozy sofa watching season 5 of "The Crown"; However, despite how I feel, however, I must orchestrate how, when a where I will spend the impending holiday. It will arrive, with or without preparation, and I have a choice to make it unique or to stick my head in the ground and let it pass by. Truth be told, I don't always feel like packing my painting bag. It is quite a lot of material to take out to observe life, and it is messy! Oil paint, turpentine, pallets of drawing supplies and easel, umbrella, bug spray, and paper towels. A meal doesn't cook itself, and a painting doesn't paint itself.
Both the craft of planning a family gathering and painting a picture draw upon and evolve from traditions. I must thank my mother, grandmother, mother-in-law, and aunts for what was important to pass along, how to set the table, and how to make a memory. At the time, I was unaware I was learning, but I was defining myself through the lives of my family. I did not understand the unintentional consequences of their offerings. At times, I may have been unappreciative. Yet, their effort produced ripples of implications.
It is said that the average time a person spends in a museum looking at a single painting is less than 30 seconds. If the artist knew that outcome, would they still find the effort to create the piece worth it? I would guess that the answer will always be yes. Why? Because while the viewing may be short-lived, its memory or ability to transcend can be far-reaching. Similarly, a thanksgiving meal can be snarfed up in mere minutes! Days of work! Like the memory of art viewing, the experience is short-lived, but the memory of looking can last a lifetime. Will every art experience be transcendent? No, of course not. But each experience defines your self a. little more , Isn't that what we are all here to do?
Just as I cannot predict how a holiday will affect others, I cannot predict where the painting will take me. Only in the actual doing and the experience of creating do I have any opportunity to see a change. May you all try to spend a little more time discovering yourselves through others, appreciate beauty, and chew a little slower this year. In solid gratitude, Happy Thanksgiving to you. My subscribers and supporters, and friends.
"All art arises out of gratitude, a deep pervasive feeling that you are glad something exists outside yourself, that something can complete you."