Approaching the Goshen Canvas Through Community Narratives

Harriet Tubman quote

At a Berry family dinner several years ago, while everyone at the table was immersed in the usual banter that tends to accompany these meals, my father suddenly interrupted the flow of conversation. Falling back on the colloquial accent of his childhood, he stated that he dreamed of traveling to Italy because he “want(ed) to see all them pretty pictures.” In many respects, this was just a typical, dad-like thing for him to say. At the same time, his comments raise pertinent questions about the role of art and design in American culture.

Growing up in the segregated South, my father did not have access to art classes or music lessons, nor was he encouraged to pursue creative endeavors. He spent much of his youth as a migrant worker and was expected to put practical concerns ahead of everything else. Needless to say, art was not emphasized.

By contrast, my mother grew up in a family that celebrated creativity; I can boast of having numerous Hostetler relatives who are musicians, writers and painters.

Yet in spite of this disparity of access and exposure to art and design, I know that much of my creative awareness comes from both of my parents. My mom loves to visit art museums and exhibitions, indulging her artistic sensibilities. My father appreciates the details of how forms are constructed, the quality of materials that are used and the subtleties that make things beautiful, even if he’s not quite sure how to fully articulate why.

Maya Angelou quote

The humble lesson I’ve learned from those who are closest within my circle of family and friends is that creativity is inherent in each and every person. Some of us may be more comfortable talking formally about art and design than others but the idea that creativity is somehow divorced from human experience is a flawed notion. Too often, art and design continue to be dismissed as impractical (that is, superficially manifested in visual expressions that are useless to the average person).

And yet each of us is capable of making visual connections that imbue our lives with meaning, helping us to utilize our creativity for the benefit of ourselves and others. (Even my sister the theologian and my brother the physicist draw upon their respective set of creative powers to further their research and study.)

By extension, then, what might the existing representation of art, design and even architecture in Goshen say about our community? How are our individual experiences reflected in the art and design around us? What stories do the city’s aesthetics reveal about our history and what we value? Is our collective identity accurately represented through visuals in the environment?

In the coming weeks, I will be writing about the significance of community narratives as a vehicle for discussing connections between art and design, opening up conversations about the impact that visual language confers on all of us as part of common, human experiences. I encourage readers to share their thoughts with me as I dig more deeply into this topic!