What’s the most effective way to encourage social change? For Quaker artist Joey Hartmann-Dow, it’s got to include vulnerability.
Joey Hartmann-Dow: It’s like here we are, all connected to the same thing and yet we’ve found ways to separate ourselves from each other. I want to bring it back to the same thing. I want to celebrate our differences, and bring it back to us all being connected. And that’s a challenge, and that’s what I want to ask questions about in my art.
The Power of Vulnerability
I’m Joey Hartmann-Dow. I grew up going to Lehigh Valley Friends Meeting in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, and I am an artist/human. It says that on my business card. I work mostly in 2D, mostly painting and drawing. So I use maps a lot, and I’ll often draw or paint directly on a map.
Connecting with Our Humanity and the Earth
The idea comes from me wanting to make work about the relationship between humans and the Earth, which includes all kinds of creatures. Maps felt like a really awesome way to do that. I would say that the creatures look most of the time vulnerable. That’s something that I put in there because I want it to seem like this thing that you should take care of and not mess up.
I would love if people looked at my art and saw the Earth as a living thing and asked themselves, “What if I treated this as a living thing that I maybe shouldn’t kick in the face but maybe take care of?” So I want these creatures to read as human but without any of the features that we use to characterize different groups of humans. Because we humans, we’re so good at that: boxing people into different categories like race and gender and age and ability and I wanted to represent humans without any of that.
How Quakerism Has Influenced My Work
I feel like the way Quakerism affected my personal growth, I would definitely say it affected my philosophy and how I communicate and how I am, and that feels very much interwoven with who I am as an artist. I want my art to be a reflection of who I am, and that very much comes from the John Woodman quote, “Let your life speak.” When I first heard that I was like, “Yes, I want to do that!”
Reconciling With the World
I would go to Quaker Meeting and hear all of this anti-war sentiment and I thought that was normal, but it turns out it’s not. That was something that I struggled with, separating this thing that I knew with what the majority of people were experiencing and feeling. It became this challenge to speak my truth in the face of other people’s opposing truths. How are we going to move forward if our truths are different? And I know that I have something in common with everybody, so that’s what I want to find. I think that the very obvious thing that I have in common with other humans is being a human, so that’s like my go-to, is to draw on other people’s experience of being human and go from there.
Encouraging Social Change
The thing about social change is it’s usually slow and what I’m thinking about is how to get a person to change something about their lifestyle that is going to positively affect the community and the Earth. I’ve noticed that fear and guilt doesn’t work, so I thought to myself: “what might work?” It does come back to vulnerability, because I think someone is more likely to really go there with an issue if they’re feeling vulnerable and they’re communicating with another person who is getting vulnerable. I’ve seen that individually and in groups when people can really let loose and be vulnerable with each other, all this truth comes out. And all this connection. And that’s where I want to go, because that’s where we’re going to see change.