July 09, 2019

Remember Where You Came From

By: Garen Robie

My love for art, books and learning stems from my Grandfather, Harry Robie. He was a Quaker College English Professor, Debate Coach, and Native American Folklore expert at Berea College in Kentucky. When he retired, he opened a bookstore: Robie Books. Upon his passing he gave the bookstore to his employees, who maintain the shop to this day. While I have always been artistically inclined, my true purpose in the Arts came to me one morning while I was in college. My Grandfather apparently awoke in the middle of the night and, I guess feeling I might be having troubles, wrote me a long letter. Here is an excerpt:

“Don’t ever forget where you came from, boy, and always remember to be nice. If you tie that advice with the golden rule, you capture the intent of all philosophy and religion. All of what I’m saying involves forgetting ourselves in the act of reaching out to others. I hope I’m right.  I’ve also wondered whether that advice should also be the intent of art. If art is solely for self-expression, then why should anyone else pay any attention? But if art can build community, celebrate our common origins, articulate our highest aspirations, then it might be something worth dedicating time to. 

Remember your audience. Remember Cicero’s point that the purpose of rhetoric is to entertain, to educate, and above all to edify the audience.  Art, like other representations of reality, is but another form of rhetoric, and I think it ought to have the same aims. Don’t let the audience be just yourself. Remember where you came from, be nice, treat others as you would want to be treated, and in your representations, try to leave your audience better than you found it.

I remember that next week I’ll see the Parthenon. What other work, even in ruins, better captures the aspirations and achievements of ancient Greek thought? What in this new century will capture the best of who we are? We don’t need to be reminded of our worst — we have enough representations of that. It’s time to create what the nineteenth century had in Beethoven’s ninth symphony and the Statue of Liberty, works that say this is the best of humanity, works that are not self-referential but rather reach out and bind us together.

The early Quakers rejected art and embraced science because they thought the first frivolous and only the second useful for the advancement of humankind. I disagree. They just hadn’t experienced the best of art.”

The letter itself energized me as a person, but this part of it really helped me as an artist. I think that’s why Ignite Studios and the Hamilton East Public Library itself has been such a good fit for me. Building community, celebrating common origins and aspiring to be better people is at the heart of what makes this such a good place. If we can continue on this path, then the future is certainly bright. To see some of my artwork and that of other local artists, come to Ignite and see our Origin Stories Show.