She was an elderly widow who lived alone, except for her alcoholic son who occasionally stayed in the downstairs portion of the house.
One night the son got in an argument with his girlfriend and battered her violently. He had been drinking and tended to get violent. The mother called 9-1-1 and the son fled in his vehicle before our officers arrived.
I was a night shift Sergeant back then. I remember responding to the residence to assist the officers on scene. The downstairs room where the son stayed was a mess. Liquor bottles on the floor, an overturned chair, dirty laundry. The battered girlfriend had already been taken to the hospital.
As I ascended the outdoor stairs to the main portion of the house I noticed curious little sculptures hanging from strings. The sculptures were abstract spirals assembled with paper, wood and such. Entering the residence I observed two of our officers speaking with the woman, who appeared upset and shaken. They repeatedly asked where her son had fled, but she just glanced down and said she did not know.
Looking around the living room I noticed a large bookshelf with many art books. I saw more miniature sculptures around the room. A few abstract paintings hung on the walls. I knelt down to her eye level and introduced myself as the Sergeant in charge. I told her my first name and said, " There's some amazing little mobile sculptures on the stairs. Did you do those?"
She looked up at me. "Yes," she said quietly. "And the paintings in here, are those yours too?" I asked. She nodded yes. " They remind me a bit of Kandinsky" I offered. She brightened up a bit, pleased that I knew a little about art.
I was trying to build rapport with this woman and it was clear that her art was important to her. We talked art and our favorite painters for a awhile. The patrol guys, who often teased me about my "artistic" side, listened intently. They knew what I was doing.
Eventually I navigated the conversation back to her son. "Does he paint at all?" I asked her. "He used to a little bit when he was...a boy." Then her tears came back. I told her that her son needed help and that his arrest would give the courts a chance to mandate some treatment for his alcoholism. Before long, she relented and told us where he had gone. In short order our officers located him, arrested him and resolved the incident.
I share this story because of the hopefulness of art. The woman in this incident was lonely and disappointed in her son. Artwork was her escape and salvation. It was everywhere in her home. Her eyes would light up when we discussed art. Artwork clearly made her happy and more hopeful. It was a place she could go to take care of herself, create, and feel a little joy.
I read recently about Jan Komski, who was one of the first Auschwitz prisoners. He produced haunting drawings and paintings of life in the concentration camp. No doubt part of his purpose was to capture the atrocities and inhumanity. But being an artist, artwork likely provided a way for him to escape the horrors. To have hope.
He eventually was liberated and became a US citizen. I read that he passed away in 2002 at the age of 87 and that through his last days he remained alert, lively, very courteous and caring of others. Perhaps artwork was his salvation?
Some artwork is dark and nihilistic, but on balance most of it seems to be celebratory. In artwork we see an effort to reveal beauty, hope and expression from the deepest regions of our souls. I saw it in the work of a lonely widow. I see it in Komski's "Liberation" painting. I see it in the artwork of children. I call it "the hopefulness of art."