Last week a dear friend was arrested. She suffered handcuffs, was finger-printed and treated like a criminal. This woman pays her taxes, eats healthily and goes to the gym every day. What crime could she possibly have committed?
A heinous crime. A crime of sharing her art in the City of New York. A crime of pasting a 3-inch sticker of her alter-ego Phoebe on a construction site. Let me take a minute to tell you about the vulnerability of Phoebe’s character. There is a softness to Phoebe that makes you want to stand in front of her and take all the blows. Phoebe is strength, she is whimsical, and she is currently strutting her stuff on the runways of Paris. Libby Schoettle and Bonnie Young recently collaborated for Bonnie Young’s Paris fashion show. Libby, Phoebe’s creator, meanwhile anxiously awaits her court date in New York.
So I got to thinking about art. About what it means to each of us. To me, it is the work of the great Masters – Leonardo Da Vinci, Frederick McCubbin, Paul Gaugin, Vincent Van Gogh, Andy Warhol and Brett Whiteley. Art is whatever lifts my senses to another plane. It is Katherine Jenkins and Dame Kiri Te Kanawa singing Lakme (the flower duet) or Yo-Yo Ma playing Bach’s Suite for Solo Cello No 1 in G Major. It is watching ballet, coming across a wonderful piece of street art and reading an incredible book such as Anne Karenina. Art is a child laughing in delight at raindrops sliding down a window and butterfly kisses from a toddler. It is slow languid love-making on a Sunday morning. Art is a photograph that has you grasping at your chest or a landscape so striking you find your face wet with tears. Art is all these things to me and more. Art is the charming figure of Phoebe wondering what to wear or crying over other people’s pain. Art is the fabric of our souls.
We have a long history of persecuting artists. There is even a period in art history called the Period of Persecution where early Christian art was destroyed. Salman Rushdie has a price on his head for his book The Satanic Verses published in 1988. The Nazi regime deemed Jewish art as degenerate and legendary British actor and filmmaker Charlie Chaplin had trouble with US authorities for not being Anti-Red in the 1940s and 1950s.
Imagine then, my disgust, my horror when I hear news from my gentle friend half-way across the globe she has been arrested for pasting a picture of Phoebe. If we lived close, I would rant and rave. I would come to the court hearing. I would cry with frustration and to be honest, I probably would have been arrested alongside with Libby.
And so many miles from New York City, I offer my protest. Let us appreciate art in all its forms. For the enrichment it adds to our everyday lives. Take time to stop and appreciate and even photograph that stunning piece of street art on the side of your local corner store. Maybe it’s the crochet jacket a tree wears on your daily walk. Offer thanks for the people who feel so strongly about beauty and enriching the lives of others, that they risk their crime-free record, their squeaky-clean lives for the sake of bringing art to us all.
I first interviewed Libby Schoettle in November 2015, read that blog post here.