Posts Tagged ‘The West Wing’

For reasons unbeknownst to me, I never watched the acclaimed television series, The West Wing. In the years since it was last on, I have had several friends, who’s opinions and tastes regarding tv and movies I trust implicitly, tell me I’m an idiot for not watching it.

Thanks to Netflix and a Roku, that wonderful streaming device I gave myself for Christmas, I am now able to catch up on all the amazing series that ran through the years while I was obviously in some sort of cave. I did watch the Sopranos religiously, I should get some sort of credit for that. I seem to have a skepticism when it comes to tv in general so I wait and take my time shopping for where I want to invest my viewing hours. Unfortunately, while I catch up on The West Wing, looks like I will eventually have to catch up on Mad Men, Downton Abbey and Duck Dynasty. Again, thank God for Netflix.

The West Wing is on my mind since I have plopped myself onto the sofa the last few nights working my way through the end of season 2 and beginning of season 3, which took place in 2001. For those of you who followed the show, you may be wondering what does the show have to do with art? Certainly the set designers went to great lengths to create a decor that pays homage to the real White House and oval office. There are amazing works of art popping up in the scenes, the portrait of George Washington, various murals, the Remington sculptures throughout. But what I am really referring to is the amazing storytelling at the root of the show, and how it gets translated (the dialogue, actors and their relationships within the scenes) in an allegorical way. To me, that’s painting!

Art is a projection, an expression of an idea, a story. Painting uses a visual language of symbol and metaphor to tell that story. And one of the biggest metaphors for me, personally is a map. One of the themes that underlies my work is liminality, being in between. I have had several experiences along the way that have left me questioning “where am I?” – both literally and metaphorically. I have moved a lot and require a certain sense of stability of place and time. On the flip side is my love of travel and geography so there’s something to be said for my desire to explore new spaces/places…as long as I have said map.

How many times have we become complacent in our “space” to suddenly have something happen that knocks us off our axis? Have you ever trusted a bad map? (see “Apple Exec Fired Over Maps”) I was reminded of that question while watching the show, as several back to back episodes dealt with just that. I felt an immediate connection to these concepts, obviously I am not the only one who questions their place in the big scheme of things.

Using the presidency and the White House communications office as the backdrop is a brilliant way to paint a picture of humanity, hubris, the desire to be heard, the need to feel that what you believe is real and true. The particular storyline in these episodes is that the president has MS but has kept that fact from the public and the staff. As if that wasn’t a big enough breach, at the same time, parallel sub-stories, all with the underlying theme questioning fidelity, that we can never take trust, or what we believe for granted, are also playing out.

A fax comes in from NASA that a satellite will be falling back to earth. To some, this could have potential tragic consequences. Satellites die? What if it hits a populated area? One of the character’s is dealing with the fact that his father has been having an affair for 28 years. Another staffer is killed senselessly driving back to work in their brand new car by a drunk driver. What all these characters realize is that none of them were where they thought they were. And in a stroke of genius, the show plays out a scene that humorously, yet poignantly slaps us in the face with this revelation when the Organization of Cartographers for Social Equality makes a plea that the map of the world often shown in schools is archaic and incorrect. Check it out, from Season 2, Episode 16, “Why Are We Changing Maps?”

We take our space/place in the world for granted every day. We rely on a false sense of trust  and assumption that isn’t really there. As if a premonition of what was to come, ironically these episodes aired in May of 2001, three months before 9/11. How many of us were knocked off our axis by that?

In the wake of the Zimmerman trial and a death this week of a young actor who appeared to have every potential for success in his pocket, I think it’s important to look at these events with the perspective that we function and move through the world based on a lot of illusions and assumptions and biased perspectives. It’s only natural to build a personal reference map in this way. The stories of our humanity are played out not only in our art, our television shows and movies, but on the evening news. Wait, take that back…on the 24-hour news cycle that is really, truth be told, just another fictionalized tv show.

How are you going to tell your story? What is your map of the world? Is it one that is racist, hateful and dark? Is it rosy, optimistic, hopeful? Maybe both. Do you feel safe if you own a gun? Would you think your children were safer if they were home-schooled vs. public school? Does your map offer short cuts and alternative routes or is there only one way to get between point A and B? Do you even need a map? Do you stay in the same spot for fear of what is around the corner?

Art in its many forms has an impeccable way of mirroring back these questions. These are the stories of Homer, Shakespeare, Dickens and Frost. They are our stories, played out over and over again. As artists and storytellers, we can decide who gets to be the hero of our tale. Will it be you, with all your warts, and all? Or a masked being in red cape and super powers? Maybe both.

I highly recommend the show for its insights, its humor, amazing acting and certainly its storytelling. Perhaps it can inspire a new perspective and angle of view. I know it has for me.

Happy painting!

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