Luis Becerra is a private man, but as an artist directs the entirety of his creative powers towards addressing the biggest, most difficult concerns of our time. His work speaks directly in response to war, politics, and control. His life -the way he finds and teaches hope to others - is through creativity itself.
Mr. Becerra works in a wide range of medias. His recent exhibition of sculptures involved portrait masks fabricated from car parts and other metal bits, each bearing a distinct personality. The first impression is one of the artist's creativity, each face taking on the personality of the assembled components, somewhat reminiscent of an oxidized steel Giuseppe Arcimbolo, a name attached to a timeless folk practice of abstracting persona from within the elements of life. A moment of discovery occurs when the list of titles is handed to the observer, and the masks instantly take on a new life as effigies. With titles like Migrant Worker, Guantanamo, Dictator, Montezuma, and Gbowee'x Mission, each piece is fully conceived and specifically addresses real world topics, in particular the subjects of war and control.
To address these topics, the artist has found in his own life that being offered undesirable options directed him towards creativity as a way to handle them, and a real option to change his world through contribution. He has a clear childhood memory of showing an artist one of his drawings, a constant occupation, and being told by a teacher that it was drawn 'wrong'. Later seeing a Picasso in a museum he realized what absurd, limiting instruction he was given. This observation is a drumbeat throughout his work, and still shapes the way he teaches young people. He never tells a student that their artwork is right or wrong. He tells them, "Don't ask, don't give me the power to tell you how to see your world.”
His message is very direct - his work illustrates war, and the business of war. He cites this as an incredibly valuable, and absolutely repressed factor in art - an intentional, programmed lack of education that strips every person of their personal power, understanding and self determination.
This lesson could perhaps be summed up by saying that even the negative teaches. Art is a reflection of what we see, it's about human beings first, how we feel about each other. The development of artistic ability gives people a venue to be involved with the world, even the most complicated concerns, expanding their ability to grasp larger and more complex situations. He sees the disappearance of arts education for young people, an art market largely driven by popular trends and clean subject matter, and museums that charge admission as direct attacks on a natural part of human existence... an interference with the personal lives of the people. In it he finds a perfect analogy for a problem at large - once something belongs to the arena of profit, it loses all of its ability to strengthen human beings.
He doesn't find this to be a secret, but a reflection of the values of automated society that has placed profit as its highest priority, a priority which is now, through ever increasing efficiency, automatically replacing any other priority with the profit model. He finds no secret plot here - it's a dominant philosophy that, matched with an intentionally eliminated education in the arts and humanities, creates a blind inability to analyze complicated issues. This is the very confusion that allows the strife of war and its tremendous profits to be conducted with impunity, and even with popular permission. And he finds that this is pretty well understood, and displays a public shift towards greed as its greatest moral value. How else can we explain cheering on the exploits of the wealthy in sports and celebrity worship instead of the children, our future? At the same time why do we cooperate, as business communities and parents, blocking any attempt within the community to creatively address problems murals, street art and public education as wasteful for their lack of profit? Hiding the artistic expression of social issues prevents any analysis of the negative, as well as effectively shutting down local, community dialogue and well being in favor of centrally controlled authority and media.
The elimination of arts education and the censorship of art is a direct form of programming a culture to value profit and success above all other aspects of human life, and Becerra sees it working very well. Even art students, having had the privilege of being exposed to the personal, independence building riches of creativity are primarily concerned with fame. He says they are among the most aware of their choices and so able to infiltrate and generate awareness as they've had the education, but they want money. This is where we're at, and our decisions in home, school and government are shaped by the will of the people.
At this point, it becomes a matter of philosophy, for which Becerra considers himself fortunate to have discovered, in art, the clear means of getting through this. A clarity that drives him to educate, at all costs, anyone he can in the way perception is ruled through the programming of profit over people values... by the simple omission of desirable life options from media and public education.
Becerra explains that it is a matter of integrity, and quite possibly it is up to the artist at this point for the simple reason that it is through creativity, and understanding the power of rejection that we can all set ourselves free. He finds what little arts education exists is usually found in a community concerned with promoting itself, keeping itself separate. Creativity transcends individual human communities, and reveals that we are members of the human race. Too much focus on one's own culture, community or political perspective results in division. Being divided is precisely they way the leadership likes it, it pits us against each other and causes us to strive for success to win ever recurrent, endless wars and abandon the strength of healthy, peaceful, creative communities.
Becerra explains that people are being educated to relate only to the functional. If we cut out arts education, we weaken our own ability to think in the abstract. Over time, anything we look at that is not directly functional simply can't be understood. Thinking in the abstract allows one to appreciate, and understand, without a concern for results. To put it another way with competition, we limit ourselves to how to do things better. With appreciation, we are concerned with how things are different. The difference in focus means all the world when it comes to clarity, critical thinking and genuine human affection.
The weakening of arts education as a priority has resulted in a significant loss of understanding about how art can improve our lives by developing a relationship with the negative, and with rejection. It is poorly understood that art is a way of approaching the most difficult aspects of human existence, putting us face to face with a real response within ourselves immediate real feeling and challenge. Rejection in this sense is positive - a political mural is a problem that has passed through the being of an artist and is transmitted to their own community as an idea. It is essentially the act of making a gift of one's own understanding. This is precisely the opposite of dictating control, telling people what to do or believe. Art has the ability to teach people how to look at situations closely, and to think for themselves.
Looking at the relationship between seeing and response reveals, if anything, that there is a distinction between the two. He asks, what if we spent less of our outpouring in evaluation of function and success, and more in doing something creative ourselves? Isn't it easier to find one's own voice than to try and dominate the public voice? We don't have to like and dislike everything we see just to investigate it. The marketers, authority, ideologues would prefer it if you spend all of your mental energy deciding and responding to the narrowed options they present before you? The last thing they want is a self-satisfied person whistling to themselves in a garden a family that stays home and knows how to creatively enjoy discussing the problems in their community instead of scouring the carefully designed aisles looking for satisfaction. The worst thing in the world, from a profit and political standpoint, is a creative and peaceable people.
Art is a creative way of showing possible pathways, facing difficult subjects without being overwhelmed by the noise and competing controls of the world. The artist literally shows the way by employing their creativity and understanding, humanizing problems and making them safely approachable. It opens our options up wide and strengthens personal freedom. Further, rejection isn't a complete response, it's a beginning. It's an opportunity to investigate and gain self-control while moving through the world. Creativity is a complete response. One artwork after another things that are too difficult to look at are transformed into things that are hard to look away from. Bit by bit the most complicated problems become understood, approachable without losing peace of mind - integrated into the whole - and choice becomes larger than selecting from a like or dislike, buy or pass button. Crisp movement and clear decisions become possible without distraction from that which we can genuinely enjoy being occupied with one other.