Quality of Life

My experiences with the fine arts throughout my life have greatly impacted my belief that artistic pursuits are integral to our humanity. Without the fine arts, communities cannot fully thrive. Through my participation in the Leadership Arts Program in 2016 (organized by the Oklahoma Arts Council), my support of this viewpoint was strengthened. A favorite exercise during this program was the Quality of Life Presentation, which each member of the Leadership Arts cohort had to deliver to the group. Through this activity, I was able to see the vast number of ways that the fine arts can contribute positively in the lives of others, whether it be through music, theater, craft, painting, or some other form. I learned much about my colleagues in the program, but I also gained insight about myself as and artist, and why the fine arts are central to my life.

Image Courtesy of University of Arkansas Libraries. 

Image Courtesy of University of Arkansas Libraries. 

My great-grandparents, Joe and Maxine Clark, offered perhaps my earliest opportunity to experience aesthetic beauty and creativity as an integral part of living. Having raised children in Tulsa, my great-grandparents decided to build a house in Fayetteville, Arkansas for retirement. They chose the masterful architect, Fay Jones, to design their new home. Jones used large windows and natural stone to integrate the structure into the landscape, thereby artistically displaying my great-grandparents' love for nature. My great-grandfather was a geologist, and my great-grandmother a botanist. Interestingly, my great grandmother became intrigued with botany because of my primary medium, photography. 

Maxine Clark, Tulsa World, 12-1-1957.jpg

She and my great-grandfather we both avid photographers, which surely influenced my interest in the medium. The art form helped my great-grandparents in an important cause they supported through the Ozark Society. This effort was to protect the Buffalo River in Arkansas from being dammed. My great-grandfather made photographs of the scenic river, which were published in the Ozark Society Bulletin along with work from other photographers. In addition, each issue of the bulletin included botanical notes written by my great-grandmother. Her friend, a retired art professor named Kathrine Winckler, created illustrations to go along with the writing.

The Buffalo River is no stranger to me. I hiked along its banks from Ponca to Jasper and back in 1926 when I made a series of sketches about rural American life. Some of these sketches appeared in my book, An Artist in America. I love this country.
— Thomas Hart Benton
Jon Boat,  Thomas Hart Benton, 1973

Jon Boat, Thomas Hart Benton, 1973

In 1972, thanks to the diligence of the Ozark Society and its members, the Buffalo River was designated as the first National River in the United States. As editors of the Ozark Society Bulletin, my great-grandparents utilized art as a means of displaying the natural beauty of the Buffalo River, which no doubt helped to emphasize the importance of preserving the area's pristine environment. For me, this use of creativity serves as a fantastic example of the power of the fine arts to make positive changes within a community; yet, art-making doesn't necessarily have to have some overt purpose for social activism. The act of creating is in itself important for strengthening societies, regardless of the ultimate purpose for the creation. Art is a part of who we are as humans. I feel extremely fortunate to be aware of how my quality of life is continually improved through the fine arts. As an artist, I strive to help others feel that same sense of awe and wonder, thereby increasing the overall wellness of my community. Has your life been changed by the fine arts, and, if so, how?