I feel an obligation to see the landscape around me in a new light. This after all has become the criterion for contemporary artists, that we present a new way of looking at things. Whatever the poet Ezra Pound may have intended by, “Make it new!” his famous imperative for artists, we have interpreted his charge as an artistic obligation to novelty. The artist should see things differently and represent them to us in novel forms. Consequently we downplay tradition in favor of innovation.
So I look for a new way of seeing the landscape, a new way of understanding it, a new way of representing it. Strangely enough, that hope of new sight or insight always seems to hinge on an older view of the landscape. Without historical context I bumble through the landscape hardly aware of anything beyond my own nerve endings. I literally can’t see the forest for the trees. New vision seems to require reciprocal engagement with the old.
Here’s how it works. Paleontologists discover the oldest human skeleton; suddenly we have a new evolutionary history to consider. Geologists discover the oldest rock on earth; a new geologic paradigm must be imagined. Archeologists discover some fragment of ancient writing; a new dimension of the human story is born. St. Paul, describing his religious vocation, put it this way, “to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things.” Searching out the old leads to genuinely new insight and vision.
That is what I’m finding as I explore Fox River environs. I’ve only scratched the surface but what I’ve learned about the Potawatomi, Fox, Sac, and Ottawa Indians, their relations with each other, with the landscape of the Old Northwest, and with white traders and settlers floods the Fox River valley with new meaning. I am drawn to richer and deeper understanding. Geographic and social histories enable me to reach beyond my own nerve-ending encounter and begin to see things differently.
Still, I must find a way to formalize this new understanding. That is where the rubber meets the road – where my own talents and imagination are put to the test. I join the millions of pioneers in all disciplines that get up and go to work each day carrying a delicate hope that maybe today some small breakthrough will occur.
~By Joel Sheesley, Artist-In-Residence, Fox River Initiative