Patricia Tomlinson, the Appleton Museum of Art Curator of Exhibitions, maintains that art can be more than just inspiring, but actually serve as a life affirming force for transformation. Tomlinson, a former professional archaeologist, joined the museum in 2016 after serving as curatorial staff in the New World Department at the Denver Art Museum.
Years ago, there was a popular bumper sticker that proclaimed “Art Saves Lives.” At the time, I thought it was a silly statement. It had the ring of something elitist at best, and downright melodramatic at worst. During the succeeding years, however, I have come to realize just what that statement meant. Having faced a lot of life’s difficulties, one thing has always been abundantly clear—art is my comfort and my company. What I mean by this is that the joy of experiencing art and the satisfaction that comes from interpreting it allowed me to be the person I am today.
When I made the decision to leave archaeology as a profession, I felt adrift for the first time in my life. I was the kid who knew from age 6 exactly what she wanted to do—and how to get there. I never veered from that path and, after college, I became a full-time archaeologist. It was an elite club and a fascinating blend of scholar and professional ditch digger; the discipline of scientific reasoning made us smart and we were fit and suntanned from hard physical labor in the hot sun. It was a lifestyle that was hard to walk away from. But I did, for many good reasons, and then had no clear idea of what I was going to do.
On a whim, I went back to school to discover phase two of my professional life. One of my classes was an introduction to art history and that, as they say, was that. I found the study of art challenging, fascinating and completely beguiling, and promptly changed my major to art history. A lot of the ancient objects were familiar to me from my former career, so the basic information was comfortingly familiar. It was absolutely the right choice and I’ve never looked back.
Over the years, art has always been there for me. Like a faithful friend, it consoles me during rough times, inspires me and, best of all, it makes me think. In addition to coming through for me, I know people who have completely turned their lives around because their involvement with art gave them something to strive for. Whether it was by going back to school to study art history, becoming a professional artist or volunteering at a local arts organization, the discipline of art can teach you a great deal about the world and even more about yourself.
Art can also upend expectations and biases. When I was teaching college art history, one of my favorite things to say to my students was, “You may not like a particular type of art, but you’d better be able to tell me why in an informed manner.” By the end of the semester, many of the students who said they “don’t like so-and-so’s art” had changed their outlook. This was due to the fact that they were able to open their minds and worldview in order to overcome their preconceived notions about what art is.
In this season of thanks, I am proud to state that art has been a revolutionary force in my life and I am appreciative for the chance to share it with others. “Art Saves Lives,” indeed.
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Appleton Museum of Art, 4333
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