Sunday, April 19, 2009

Art, Age, and a Fear Index

Last week my friend S. and I took our kids to an exhibit of student art at our local university.  The shows were by senior students about to finish  undergraduate degrees in Fine Arts. 

My daughter and S.’s son have been friends since they were three years old.  Glad to get out on a school day afternoon, they were initially skeptical about an art gallery.   


As we walked around, I saw pieces that were interesting and some that seemed to show real talent.  But the collection that took me in was the one the kids are looking at here.   

It’s by a young woman named Lindsey Weber.  Her theme:  a universal fear system—primarily as seen in her age group. 

Before you stop reading, go on a little further.  I think you might be captivated as I was.  

Here’s an excerpt from the artist’s statement: 

Shared memories of campy horror movies and teenage insecurities pool into the unconscious of twenty-somethings, creating a virtually universal fear system.  Drawing imagery from horror movies, beauty product advertising and personal nightmares, my work attempts to label and categorize the fears and insecurities of Generations X and Y.

and this: 

…. I hope to explore my theories of a universal fear system by comparing and indexing the fears of all generations of people. 

Ms Weber created her exhibit around elementary school themes, like old library cards and letters of the alphabet.  Here are some of the images. 



In addition to these, the artist created a way for viewers to participate in her fear survey. 

She made a Phobos, or Fear, Index, out of a falling-apart sign-out book from an old library.  She set this up on an old classroom desk in the corner and invited visitors to: 

….contribute to my study and write your fears in the fear index.  

I liked this.  I have to admit my first response was that there might not be many takers, though. 

My daughter, H., wanted to do it.  Here she is recording her fears.  She told me later that’s she’s indeed afraid of clowns like those in the first painting (and which look to me like the one in “Poltergeist”).  And she’s afraid of global warming.   


Finally I sat down to look at the book.  I didn’t write down my own fear until later.  But the entries there drew me in right away.  I took out my camera and made a lot of photos.   I make no assumptions about any of them.   Some might have been tongue in cheek, while others clearly were not. 




100_1233 100_1236

100_1237 100_1226




These pages brought back all the insecurities and personal angst of my own twenty-something years, which were the most awful of my life.  Nearly every fear listed was one of personal power, personal strength, intimacy—all the things that certainly occupied my heart and mind in that decade. 

There was one item I didn’t see written down—because, of course, why would a twenty-something write it?  I wrote it myself:  

Old Age. 

In the week since we visited this show, I’ve realized that it’s not so much Old Age I fear, as What I’ve Been Told About Old Age.  Much like Ms. Weber, I’m thinking about imagery I’ve absorbed since my earliest days—and the fears that imagery has created.  Some of the sources are the same as the artist’s:  movies (and media in general), beauty product advertising, and personal nightmares. 

By naming and illustrating fears, we make them conscious; knock them down to size.  Once conscious, we are free to choose new images.  It turns out that a lot of the fears I had when I was twenty-five didn’t come true.  Others did, but were not frightening in the end.  Today I want to name my fears of the future and ask which ones are valid. 

The relevance of this Phobos Index encompassed Ms Weber, my daughter, me.  It made me think, feel, and connect. 

Isn’t that what art is for?          

100_1253 (3) Fine Arts Gallery at the University of Montana. 

All photos taken with permission of artist, Lindsey Weber.  No photographs may be reproduced without permission of the artist.  Text copyright The Blue Kimono.  If you’re interested in contacting Ms Weber or learning more about her work, please click here.


You  might also like this post called “What Not to Give Up in a Recession:  Art!”


Jane said...

What an inspiring post and the photos are fantastic.
I have been getting upset a lot lately with my children and only recently I realised that a lot of my anguish is based on fear. For fear read worries about the future.
Ir reminded me of a quote by Winston Churchill:
“When I look back on all these worries, I remember the story of the old man who said on his deathbed that he had had a lot of trouble in his life, most of which had never happened”

Imogen Lamport, AICI CIP said...

This is fascinating Sallymandy. A great and insightful post!

It makes me think about what my own fears are. Until I passed the age of her death, I was scared of dying young (as my mother did at the age of 33) and I refused to have kids til I was older than that. Now that is passed I no longer fear dying young.

Gal Friday said...

I am so glad you allowed us, your readers, to have a look at what was written in the book.
Thinking back on my 20's, I can't recall being afraid of anything much.(of course, as a child, clowns, and the circus made me afraid. Clowns seem to be a universal fear)
Now I get depressed thinking of the things that might happen and lie ahead...

Stephanie N. said...

My biggest fear: that when we finally decide to get rid of the goalie (ahem... birth control pills), we won't be able to conceive. I'm 30, and we're probably not going to start trying for another year or two. It would be more apt to say that I fear the regret that I will feel if we have trouble conceiving - regret over not starting sooner.

Thanks for sharing Ms. Weber's work. It is inspired and inspiring. I think it's awesome that you and your friend took your kids to an art gallery, and that you went to a university art gallery. Such a great way to support your community.

Duchesse said...

I appreciate art that invites the viewer to participate; this is the best of "public art" (and so much is awful.

I have heard a lot of motivational-speaker type hype around conquering fear, that it's "all a story we tell ourselves", and I think that's bunk. Some fears are real, some are not. In myself, I reflect on what's rational fear and what's not.

Fear about old age, from what I've seen, is rational.

La Belette Rouge said...

Fantastic: Not only the show or Ms. Weber's interesting ideas and interactive catalog of fears but how you approached the show and processed your fears. I have the old age fear too. I have the Alzheimer's fear too. My grandmother had it and I once had a neurologist tell me that I had a space between my brain and skull that looks like a brain with Alzheimer's. He then explained that it was not but that moment exacerbated my fear of being old and not remembering anyone or anything in my life.

materfamilias said...

What an interesting and thought-provoking exhibit -- and how cool that you and your friend took your kids out of school to see it. At least you don't need to fear that they won't have some warm memories from their school years or that they'll grow up with no appreciation of art . . .

drollgirl said...

this is so cool! and thought-provoking. i love art. just love it, and your post helps explain why. :)

Eleonora Baldwin said...

Insightful and very inspiring post, Sallymandy! That *is* the purpose of art, extracting our expression.

What a great exhibit and what an enlightened artist, this Ms Weber.

You write beautifully, but I'm repeating myself. My biggest fear? Illnesses. Threats to the health of me and my loved ones.

That feels good, you're right.

I love the photo of your daughter writing her fears: so real, so young, so beautiful with her flip flops undone.

Ingrid Mida said...

What a fascinating post. As an artist myself, I was entirely taken in by the participatory nature of the exhibit. Sometimes it seems forced, but in this case, it worked. Kudos to this young artist!
In my art, I try to capture beauty as a way of bypassing the pain and ugliness that exists in the world. I have learned a lot about fear from being forced to confront death and illness of friends and loved ones, as well as aging and infirmity of my parents. I think I've learned that fear robs us of today. Often what we fear never comes to pass but we have lived like it has and so lived in fear instead of joy.
Write down your fears and rip them up!!

Mervat said...

This was fascinating. What a talented artist and communicator Ms weber is. And thank you to you for posting about it. My fear is anything that makes me feel fear, as in the old addage 'nothing to fear but fear itself", which rings so true to me.
Thanks again.

Unknown said...

You & Ms. Weber have me thinking..... past fears of clowns - a given. Would I live older than my Mom - she passed away at 36 (past that). Future fear of getting Alzheimer's.

But after taking a deep breath, I just exhale those fears where they should go....away. I'll just try to take each day at a time. Handle what ever the good Lord decides I should be challenged with.

Great Post!

Jean said...

Love her choice of subject matter and a look in the book was fascinating.

Great post.

Jennifer said...

What a provocative post. I don't think I have really thought about fears, though they are there, certainly. I agree about old age. What comes immediately to mind is my mother's regular comment, "you'll be old someday, too."

Woman in a Window said...

wow. This one really has me thinking. What it was that I feared and what it is now that I fear? And you know what, nothing immediately comes to mind for now. Well, a few things, but not what I would expect. A post to keep with me and think on. Thanks for it.

Susan B said...

Wow, that sounds like an incredible piece, the very best kind of interactive art.

I have a fear/dislike of clowns because my childhood pediatrician had clown pictures up in the waiting room, and I always associated them with being sick and/or knowing I was going to get a shot!

Unknown said...

Thanks Sallymandy for this great posting about my piece! Its been wonderful to hear the comments from others about their own fears and insecurities and to gain your and their insight.

sallymandy said...

Jane, when I get upset with my family, it's always based on fear. I know what you mean. Love the Churchill quote.

Imogen: I'm glad you've passed that age. Sorry you lost your mother so young.

Gal: I didn't know the clown thing was universal. I know what you mean about the future, now that we're older, but I'm really aware that I don't want to live in fear forever. I already wasted a lot of years that way. Thanks, Tina...

Stephanie: We have lots of good accessible art at our university, and it's within walking distance from my house. I wish you the best with your hopes for a family. When I was in your shoes, I did not have a problem getting pregnant. I hope it's that way for you.

Duchesse: we're lucky to have a lot of art avaiable for a relatively small town. My grandfather used to say the fears were warranted, too. But I don't think he tried very hard to do what he could. My father, on the other hand, has such optimism and hope. I'd rather take his approach.

Belette: thank you for the compliment. Yes, I forgot about the Alzheimer's fear. Hmm. This has been very enlightening. xo

Mater: well, we didn't take the kids out of school, but went over to the show right after school. My friend grew up in Manhattan going to fab museums, so she gave them a little lecture about how we appreciate art. I don't know if it stuck...but some of the experience certainly did.

Yes, Droll dear, of course you do, and that's why you have such a fantastic blog. I'm glad you liked this.

Thanks, Lola. I like everything you said, and appreciate your support. I kind of like the pic of my daughter, too. The hot-dog looking thing on the floor is my pencil case. Grazie!

Ingrid: thanks for sharing your experience here about art and fear. So true, I think.

Mervat: Yes, you said it so well! Fear itself. Good reminder.

Sher: Sounds like you have a lot of serenity about fear. Thanks for sharing that.

Jean: yes, the book kind of almost took my breath away. And did you notice how many people were inspired to be rather arty in the way they recorded their fears? It was a wonderful experience.

Jennifer: Interesting, what your mother said. I kind of envy my daughter's youth sometimes. When I remember that youth has its own set of problems, it helps.

W in W: you're welcome, and I'm glad for you that you don't have fears that are immediately in front of you...

Deja: yuck, about the clowns in the doctor's office!

Lindsey: well, thank YOU! You can see how much we all loved your work. Keep it up.

Cheryl said...

What a great artist statement. I've been struggling with mine, trying to define why it is I do what I do, which is just really hard to do when most of it is instinctual and touchy feely.

It is comforting, though, to see how everyone shares the same basic fears. When we really examine them, most really do seem ridiculous and overblown. On the other hand fear is fed to us from so many outlets. Learning to deal with that is a necessary part of life I suppose.

Jennifer Campaniolo said...

What an interesting idea and what a great execution of it! Fear is such a powerful motivator, but can also be a great inhibitor, too.

My fear: Being invisible, not mattering. Which I guess also means I'm afraid of getting old, too. I already feel like I'm out of touch compared to the twentysomethings in my town!