Last night, I went to an artist talk given by Amos Paul Kennedy, Jr., a Louisiana-born, Detroit-based letterpress printer. Kennedy wasn’t always a visual artist: he majored in math in college, and worked at IBM and AT&T for years before discovering printing. He describes himself as a “humble Negro printer,” a phrase that touches on both his emphatic categorization of himself as a printer (not, he will be quick to say, an artist, as he believes the term carries elitist implications) and the themes of race and social activism which pervade his prints.
His works are layered, colloquial, engrossing. They employ aphorisms and proverbs, ranging from, “She who plants a garden plants happiness,” to “I’m as southern as pepper jelly” and “Coffee makes you black.” Kennedy was a dynamic and enthusiastic speaker, sharing his opinions on the art world, money, political art and career satisfaction.
The part of his talk that most struck me, though, was his description of his expectations for himself and his artwork. Kennedy recommended that everyone set themselves low expectations, so that those expectations can readily be met. He explained his expectation as a print-maker is that he will put ink on paper. Simple, achievable goals. This formula appealed to me greatly, as someone who is creatively inclined but not given to huge bursts of dramatic creative output. The rejection of tropes of artistic genius or erratic, divine inspiration in favor of methodical creative practice felt empowering and inclusive.
Mostly, though, Kennedy’s step-by-step approach to creation reminded me of a Facebook argument I had seen unfolding earlier in the day. A friend had posted a link to a statement by Florida Gov. Rick Scott, in which Gov. Scott outlined his plan to raise age restrictions on the purchases of firearms. (The post neglected to mention a whole host of other gun restrictions Gov. Scott is hoping to implement.)
She chastised the governor, criticizing his lack of drastic, decisive action. Given the hostile combativeness of most of the Facebook arguments I witness, I was surprised to see a string of overwhelmingly positive comments on the post, all advocating for the governor’s incremental approach, and reminding the original poster of the gradual process by which stricter gun control laws will be enacted. “Most political laws are very small steps," wrote one poster. Another agreed that the actions proposed by Gov. Scott were “generally positive.”
It’s hard to retain perspective – to advocate for moderation, instead of quantum leaps of progress – in the wake of a tragedy as mind-numbingly horrific as the Parkland shooting. I, as much as the next appalled, pro-gun-control observer, want all the guns gone. Now, preferably.
It can seem obvious that radical, drastic steps must be taken, listening to victims of school shootings recount their experiences. Listening to Kennedy speak about the daily progress of creation, though, I was reminded of the importance of persistence, no matter how slow the process, in the face of a daunting task. Hopefully, I can maintain the positivity of those Facebook commenters, advocating wholeheartedly but realistically for common sense gun control.