March 22, 2019
An essay on prison art by Stamps Arthur F. Thurnau Professor Emerita Janie Paul has been published in the Gulf Coast Journal of Literature and Fine Arts. The essay is a shortened section from Paul’s upcoming book, Worthy to the World: Art and Voices from Prison, a combination of narratives by incarcerated artists and Janie’s reflections about art making in prison, based on her twenty four years of curating the Annual Exhibition of Art by Michigan Prisoners. The book asks: How do people who have all agency taken away from them resist and regain control through art-making? And how do the content and formal qualities of the artwork reflect this particular resistance to oppression? The answers to these questions revolve around the activity of making meaning. This critical human task becomes especially urgent for people living in a situation that renders them valueless and without purpose.
The essay is from a chapter about the significance of light and texture in prison.
“Working in my studio early in the morning, the sun just touching the trees outside the window, the sky turned pink, I think of the ancient humans, of the creation stories, of the big bang, of the astronomers now looking into the stars. And then I think of an artist in prison, sitting in a room with artificial light, shading with pencil or making a painting, the miraculous yet oddly simple way to create light on form. ”