Letter from the Editor: Why Art?

Every year we focus this one issue on the arts to honor the abundance of talent in our region. The Artist of the West column is a regular feature in the magazine, yes, but this issue encompasses all media — painters, theatre, performance art, sculpture, glass, literature, photography and music. We’ve been doing this for 15 years, yet each year when I assemble the cast of articles for Arts issue I am astounded at the broad talent in our region. It leads me to ask: Why art?

The fly fishing, the other forms of recreation that bring people to the Northern Rockies, I grasp simply, but the art, well, as they say, that’s subjective. My best conclusion is that at its core art is something to connect people to a place, a time, to each other. My answer may sound trite, but still, I believe it’s true.

There is a painting that hangs in my father’s store that has always spoken to me. It is a portrait of a young girl at the beach. She is around 5, brown-skinned, her sun-streaked hair pulled into a ponytail with a white ribbon. Sitting on her heals, her figure in profile, bare-bottomed, she reaches for a starfish from the sandy shore. I don’t know who painted it, but the essence of that image will forever encapsulate my childhood. It is something sweet and innocent, curious and lonely, too.

I was about the age of the girl in the painting when I first noticed it hanging in a prominent spot at my grandparents’ house. The girl at the beach seemed nearly my size and I wanted to play with her. I asked my grandmother who she was. Her response was so full of love; I will never forget it. “We bought that painting because it reminded us of you.”

The house is gone now. My grandparents have moved into the city. And the painting hangs with a jumble of family photos, psychedelic tropical landscapes, business awards and sales displays at my father’s store. It looks a little beat up. It looks forgotten. I doubt many people even notice it there, on its too-high hook. But I do. I see it once a year and I’m transported again to the moment when my grandmother held my hand in hers and stood with me — the cool tile floor on our bare feet a respite from the hot sand outside, from the midday heat on a windless day, the scent of plumeria and ocean air wafting — and I felt very loved.

Hopefully one of the many artists in this issue will resonate with you as a reader. No matter the medium, art has the power to create emotion, carry us to a time and place beyond our daily lives. Novelist Rick Bass does this in his own way, with fiction that imagines life on the road. We tap into the dynamic relationship between actor and audience with classic theatre presented each summer by Montana Shakespeare in the Parks. A gang of painters captures the quiet beauty in Plein Air Yellowstone, while the artisans of Goose Bay Glass of Townsend, Montana dazzle us with the magic of glass blowing. I hope there will be something in these pages that gives you that feeling of connection.

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