>Artist Michael Owen with friends Scott Burkholder and Jae Jin are spreading love–literally with paint–on walls in Baltimore.
Can love murals in an urban environment make a difference? They say that what we eat is what we are. Does what we see also affect who we are?
There is evidence that what our eyes take in does affect us. Cognitive and affective studies demonstrate how colors affect us. Green is supposed to be calming. There are court cases that have addressed the influence of video games on the human psyche. Advertisers seem to believe/hope that what we see will influence our actions and we’ll buy their product. The movie rating system seems to back this up too when children are banned from R and X-rated films.
I know from personal experience that looking at the work of other photographers affects how I see things. Have you ever seen Edward Weston’s still life of a pepper? After seeing this photograph, I never saw a pepper–or food for that matter– in the same way again. I’m always aware of the role light and shadow play in our perception and sometimes, thanks to Weston, I see body parts in fruit and vegetables.
The Family of Man photography exhibit, curated by Edward Steichen, also changed the way I see. At one time I thought of people in other countries as exotic and different from me. After seeing this collection, I began to realize that we are more alike than different.
So, the question is will Michael Owens’s love paintings make a difference in Baltimore? I don’t think it will change crime and drug statistics. However, it will probably change the way people see a particular space. Or the way people see possibilities such as how we can make love with our hands. (Oops! That didn’t come out right but you get the idea.)
Hands and how we use them are important. Gandhi reminded us that you can’t shake hands with a clenched fist.
I’m a believer in the bottom-up approach. For instance, we’re far from attaining world peace. Our leaders have failed miserably. Why? Because in order to make change on a grand scale, it must first begin in a small way. “Let peace begin and let it begin with me.”
Servas, an international peace organization understands the potential of building peace from the bottom-up. As Servas hosts, my husband David and I open our home to visitors from around the world. And as Servas travelers, we stay in other hosts’ homes. We begin as strangers and, after two days, say goodbye to new friends. The Servas site reminds us of how small things build: “With every true friendship, we build the basis for world peace.”
Back to the Baltimore question and love murals…
In the past, Baltimore has tried slogan campaigns that didn’t work. Remember “Believe” and “Baltimore, the city that reads”? These were top-down projects. The Baltimore Love Project is different. It is from the bottom-up, beginning with one artist’s vision.
The cynics are right though. These love walls won’t change the statistics that adults love to quote. The Little Prince understood the problem with statistics:
“Grown-ups like numbers. When you tell them about a new friend, they never ask questions about what really matters. They never ask: ‘What does his voice sound like? What games does he like best? Does he collect butterflies?’ They ask: ‘How old is he? How many brothers does he have? How much does he weigh? How much money does his father make?’ Only then do they think they know him.”
Although the murals may not change numbers, the love walls might remind us that we can use our hands to spell love instead of throwing rocks or giving Rockefellers. They might make us see a space in a new way so we understand that an ordinary space can become something special. We might want to take our pictures in front of a love wall and share that picture with others, spreading the love even more.
Maybe we will begin to think about a word that has been missing in our conversations, actions and hearts lately.
If the love walls change what we see or feel, even for just a few seconds, then it’s worth it because big things always start out small. Maybe it’s time we feast our eyes on something positive. Afterall, we are what we eat.
My earlier posts on this project: