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In Spartanburg, South Carolina there is a unique collection of art — the Johnson Collection. I wanted to take a brief moment to highlight it because it embodies values I hold dear. Their motto is:
A Private Collection for Public Good.
The gallery felt more like a home and the staff felt more like family than a regular, intimidating art museum.
But then again, it’s not a museum. They have a small exhibition gallery in town. They also exhibit some of their work in local office buildings. And what’s not on display is being sent to museums and exhibitions all over the country. People don’t have to travel to Spartanburg to see their art; instead the art goes to see the rest of the world.
What struck me was the determination of the Johnson family and staff to share their art with the community. It was the feeling that this family, this space, wanted to FREE art from very walls on which it hangs.
I want to do the same thing with my novels: take “high art” and the “great masters” off their pedestals and bring them down into the streets. To take them out of the venerated, intimidating walls of a museum and turn them back out into the wild again. To make them tangible, accessible, human…
And that’s what the Johnson Collection is trying to do — to make art human again. To take away the pretension and the high-mindedness that encases so much of our art and instead, hand it back to the people. And to do this, they are dedicated to educating the public through art.
Throughout history, art has been used for education: the church used it to teach Bible stories, schools used it to teach history, thinkers used it to pass down stories from the past. It has always been an educational medium.
I used to fear that in contemporary times, art had strayed from this educational mission. Since art isn’t usually representative anymore, it had become too thinky, too abstract to be of educational use…
But now I see contemporary abstract art as a great learning tool. It may not teach you a story from history, but it will teach you how to think, how to solve problems, how to interpret symbols. How to see for yourself.
And in a world that is moving fast — where every FACT can be looked up on the internet (although, beware! don’t trust those “facts” found on the internet), it may not be memorization of history that we need, but the skills to think critically about what we are looking at that will help us grow.
So that’s why I treasure collections like the Johnsons’ in Spartanburg. We need art in our contemporary classrooms to open our students’ eyes to the world. We need to help them make connections of their own. We need to help them SEE the world as THEY see it, not as some Wikipedia page lays it out.
And art can do just that.
So thank you, Johnson Collection, for using your private collection for the public good. I wish we would all be so generous.