Art: The Great Communicator

I received a comment from a painter, Julian about my post on the Myth of the Artist (see below). Julian lives and works in Texas and in my opinion, is a talented painter. Julian and I are about as different as you can get, yet we are corresponding simply because we are both artists. Art has the power to transcend boundaries of gender, geography, age, religion, race, you name it. It can even transcend fear. Here's how I know:

Back when I was in grad school, one of my teachers told me I had to do an internship as a teacher in the community, some sort of community based program. I ended up at the old Letterman Army Hospital in the Presidio of San Francisco. Somehow I got into the Radiation/Chemotherapy Program for cancer patients.
All sorts of people were there; women and men, children with their parents, husbands waiting for wives. The same folks showed up for chemo or radiation on a regular basis. Some of them didn't come back after awhile and I would find out that they had died. It was hard to keep going to the clinic, but I was determined to complete the internship.

I diligently schlepped all my art supplies into the clinic every week and set up a table for the patients to paint at. No one came to my table. Every once in awhile some brave soul would sit down and doodle on a piece of paper. I started schelpping less and less stuff each week. Finally, I showed up with nothing but a sketch pad and a pencil. I sat in the plastic patient chairs, next to the folks getting radiation or chemotherapy and I sketched the nurses' station, over and over again. The same computer monitor and potted plant.

The people sitting next to me would invariably ask me what I was drawing, looking over my shoulder. And we would chat about my drawing at first, then they would talk to me about their wife or husband, or their child, getting treatment. They spoke about their fears, their anger, their frustrations. I just kept drawing, the same plant and computer over and over again. They told me about their anniversary party, their kid's baseball team. All sorts of little intimate stories. And me, a complete stranger, a safe ear, I just listened and drew. Would they have talked to me if I had been reading a book? Probably not. That's a closed door. But the drawing was an open conduit and they just talked and talked.

Try it for yourself. Take a sketchpad and pencil to a coffeeshop or a park, see if someone doesn't come up to you and strike up a conversation about your drawing or painting. It happens all the time to painters who paint on location. Why? I think it's because art is the great communicator. What do you think?