Since the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School on Dec. 14, 2012, our collective senses have been rattled. Not only with the telling of the story of what happened, but also with the images that have been thrust into our view of frightened children, grief stricken parents, and other signs of intense pain.
And guns. Everywhere you turn – newspapers, TV news, online magazines – you see pictures of assault weapons. It is as if seeing the image of these machines that are designed to kill will somehow motivate us to some kind of action.
As we are gripped with the pain of this one tragedy, however, we tend to ignore the daily tragedy of harm that befalls other children daily. An average of 5 children die every day as a result of child abuse in the United States. Nearly 6 million children are harmed in some way by domestic abuse each year according to reports, which likely underestimate the true number of abuses cases.
We have ugly pictures to go along with that too. Photos of sad, morose children wth dirty faces and black eyes evoke pity and implore us to do something. Again, it seems that the only way to motivate people to action is to assault them with images of awful things.
Another area of activism that tries to motivate with horrifying imagry is the pet rescue community. Images of bloody and emaciated animals creep their way into my Facebook newsfeed every day. Activists think that sharing these awful pictures of abused and neglected animals will motivate us to do something to stop animal abuse.
Artists often buy into this myth that scare tactics motivate people to action. They fill their artworks with macabre images that thrill the arts intelligencia, who analyze their expressiveness with egoistic verbosity.
But looking at the statistics on mass shootings, child abuse and animal abuse, these motivation tactics do not seem to be working. Children are still being harmed. Animals are still being harmed. The two phenomena are deeply intertwined in their occurrence in our society. And shocking us with imagry is not making a dent in creating change.
As an artist, I do not enjoy creating ugly things. I deplore violence towards children and animals, and I want to use my art to educate people about how these two issues are connected. I want to inspire and lead people towards meaningful change. But I cannot, and will not do it by perpetuating the ugliness.
All of my artwork has a positive and joyful quality. It is not by accident. I choose color and other artistic elements that bring about those qualities on purpose. It is not to ignore the less positive realities in life, but to articulate the more positive outcomes that we seek.
With my Okey’s Promise projects, I more purposefully challenge people to initiate a dialogue about the links between animal abuse, child abuse and domestic violence – a particularly ugly reality of human society. But even so, I do this by intriguing people with images of hope instead of creating images that make them want to turn away.
I don’t know if I will make a dent any more than those who resort to sensationalism tactics. I can’t go wrong with hope, though. What have I got to lose?