UU President Creates Painting for Local Arts Council Fundraiser

URBANA, Ohio (January 24, 2012) - President Stephen Jones is one of twelve local non-artist celebrities who created an original work of art for the Champaign County Arts Council fundraiser, “Bad Art by Good People.” Each artist had a professional artist as a mentor. Mike Major, former artist-in-residence at Urbana University and current member of the Board of Trustees was a mentor to Dr. Jones. Major sponsors for this fundraiser are former UU President Francis and Mrs. Hazard. 

     The public can vote for the best (or worst) artwork through PayPal on the Arts Council’s website at www.champaigncountyartscouncil.org. Voting can also be done at the Arts Council office during the week prior to the Inauguration. Voting costs $1 per vote, and there are no restrictions on the number of times you can vote. Vote early and vote often! Deadline is February 24, 2012. Cast your vote for our very own Picasso! 

     The following is an essay written by Dr. Jones and submitted along with his painting. 

2012 Bad Art; Reflections by Steve Jones January 9, 2012 

I’ve never painted, drawn, nor otherwise indulged in the visual arts as an adult, which chronologically I have been for nearly 40 years. Sure, as a practicing forester during my first dozen professional years I prepared many maps; I did not consider mapping an “art,” nor did others in the company of my employment. Maps were “tools” of our trade, and nothing more. 

My chosen “art,” if I can be so bold, is the written word. I’ve always relished assembling words to inform, entertain, challenge, and communicate. I’ve occasionally mused about the possibility of writing something for more popular print – something beyond the hundreds of technical and scientific articles and chapters I’ve drafted and had published in obscure journals read by folks with quite narrow interests in my field. 

Now, I’ve been tossed reluctantly into the depths of the visual arts equivalent of a dunk tank, terrifying to start and somewhat satisfying to complete my first “painting.” Real artist, Mike Major, mentored me, commenting at one point (in rave review) how good it was that I had not previously acquired any bad “brush habits.” His praise stopped there. 

Why on earth did I choose the subject matter I did? I’m a forester by training (and passion). I see more in trees than most people – biologically, functionally, and symbolically. Tree form has fascinated me for years. Their adaptive geometry varies dramatically with species and environment (the nature and nurture thing). This past summer we visited two of my favorite locations: Dolly Sods, a high Plateau in north-central West Virginia, and Hurricane Ridge on the western Olympic Peninsula. Both are exposed to the elements, with vegetation shaped and contorted by strong prevailing winds, creating stem and branching form that I find nearly magical. So, I started with visualizing a tree in such an exposed environment.

I’ll add another dimension to my explanation. I’ve always been captivated by the weather at its extremes and landscape in its rawest form. I decided to place my tortured tree in some rough topography, and for simplicity’s sake I elected to serve up some beautiful weather, but made clear that it’s not always so sublime (witness the tree). I took a lot of poetic license – I know full well that a tree (any species) in such an otherwise stark environment would not grow nearly so luxuriously and large perched at the precipice on scarce soil in a climate that appears, on the evidence of sparse vegetation, to be arid.

I wanted the tree to express visually some critical symbols:

• Persevering against all odds

• Thriving by sheer will

• Beauty in times and places of peril

• Adversity as a motivating force

• Spirituality in nature

I manufactured my terrain and the tree mentally, not borrowing what I “saw” from a photograph, print, or painting. I am curious to know what I could do from a photo or live view.

If I were to have seen my finished “artwork” before I started the project, I would have been pleased, I think. However, when I view it now, I see so much of what I should/could have done better. I can easily slip into disappointment. But then I remind myself that what I developed really is (and was expected to be) Bad Art! I take satisfaction that I learned a great deal in the process, and I did it for a good cause. Did I unleash the artist within? The beast doesn’t seem to be lurking there. Did I explode my appreciation for what true artists (like Mike) can do so effortlessly (at least it seems to be so)? I know now that producing anything of value takes time, passion, knowledge, hard work, and talent. As I watched Mike at his own work (me, overflowing with envy), I told myself that he has spent thousands and thousands of hours with brush in hand. Sure, he came into it with innate talent, but he translated the talent into production by dedicating his life to it.

I’m glad I volunteered (was coerced!) to bare my soul (that’s what it felt like) on an easel (actually I used a table top). Anytime we can learn something about ourselves and others represents a good use of the minutes and hours involved. I urge everyone in Champaign County to support the Arts – let’s make Bad Art by Good People a success and an annual event!

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