Archive for January, 2010

Passing the Mantle

Posted by Sarah Jane on January 9, 2010

We are a culture that embraces youth. Our grandmothers wear sexy lingerie, our church elders play Twister with the junior-high youth group, and our retirees learn to snowboard or play the electric guitar. There’s no age at which people are required to stop being desirable, playful, adventurous, or cool — and that’s good.

In our boundless fascination with youth, though, I worry that we have forgotten how much we need our elders to be elders, too. And maybe we have forgotten what a burden that role can be. It must be scary to offer a lifetime’s worth of experience and observations to a younger generation who may not appreciate or embrace what you have to give. My parents’ generation once rallied to a cry of “Never trust anyone over 30!” — will they now be willing to embrace the role of elders, to share their stories and their wisdom? Perhaps it’s especially hard to take up this mantle if you live in a culture that puts youth on a pedestal and goes to incredible lengths to avoid any sign of aging.

But we need elders. We twenty-somethings need someone to tell us all the stories of our families and communities — the stories that explain where our values come from, and how things came to be the way they are, and what we have learned along the way. We need someone to reassure us that our world really can change and sometimes drastically — that Hitler and segregation and the Berlin Wall were real, and that they were brought down by real people, too. We need someone to listen to our fears and concerns, and help us to think about them within the context of a world where wars and unemployment and health care and political struggles and religious questions are nothing new.

So this isn’t just a plea to my parents’ generation to take up the mantle; to carry it wisely and well. It’s also a plea to my own generation to cherish our elders, and listen carefully to their wisdom, and celebrate the riches they have to share with us. One day we will be the ones to pass that wealth along.


Posted in community | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

The Act of Naming

Posted by Sarah Jane on January 5, 2010

One of the hardest parts of art-making, at least for me, is bestowing a title on the work. Whether one is naming an infant, a city, or an art object, the act of naming has always been understood to be powerful and mysterious. With a name comes identity, definition, and belonging.

In my art-making, I like to put this off until the last possible minute, holding out in desperate hope of gaining a better understanding of this new thing I have made. Even that is not a flawless system, because many times I don’t fully understand my own artwork until I’ve watched viewers interacting with it. And so the act of naming is fraught with uncertainty and guesswork and hope.

Since I’m a real language nerd, naming also tends to involve a complex dance with the thesaurus. I am consistently attracted to unfamiliar words and phrases, and those with multiple layers of possible meanings — language that challenges viewers to stop and play with the new ideas, rather than jumping to easy conclusions. (I’m not interested in making my viewers feel stupid, though, so I always provide a definition when using unfamiliar words.)

I’d be interested in hearing from some readers, though. What do you think is the relationship between an artwork and its title? Is it possible for a poorly-chosen title to undermine the power of a work of art? How do you go about choosing a name for your own work?

Posted in art, culture | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments »


Posted by Sarah Jane on January 5, 2010

To my [very small] handful of readers, I apologize for the long silence over break; clearly this is something I need to plan for if I’m going to be a serious blogger.

Posted in personal | 2 Comments »