“I don’t like to say that I’ve given my life to art.
I prefer to say that art has given me my life.”
This heartfelt observation by American minimalist painter, sculptor, and printmaker Frank Stella prompted me to create a private Facebook group in 2013 for sharing artwork—and inspiring its creation—by individuals around the globe. “Art is Life” attracted a respectable number of participants during its first few years, but since the coronavirus pandemic spread widely in 2020, I’ve been both astonished and thrilled to welcome 7800 individuals from nearly 170 countries and territories (listed at the end of article).
Strict social distancing necessitated by this devastating health crisis paradoxically sparked the formation of a vibrant, restorative online community for artists and art aficionados. Without risking serious illness or death, participants began discussing their passion for creating art as well as for experiencing and appreciating the imagination and craftsmanship of others. Invigorating online relationships, focused on creativity of all kinds, magically dissolved intransigent social, economic, linguistic, and geographical barriers among individuals from disparate cultures and generations and enriched myriad lives in the process.
More Than Just a Hobby
Art played a formative role for me as the youngest of four daughters in what appeared at first glance to be a typical mid-20th century suburban California family. But creative self-expression was more than just a hobby for my mother, Viola Galantin Aberg. Born in Des Plaines, Illinois, during 1921, this daughter of Hungarian immigrants to the Chicago area studied with renowned New Bauhaus artists László Moholy-Nagy and György Kepes at the Illinois Institute of Design in the late 1930s. When WWII broke out, her family moved west to Los Angeles, where she married former Army Air Corps pilot John Jacob Aberg and assumed the traditional responsibilities of a stay-at-home wife and mother. Some mothers spent hours “coffee klatching” with neighbors in their spare time, but mine poured most of her creative energy into making art.
Returning home from school each afternoon, I was always eager to discover where Mom’s creative instincts had led her that day. If she wasn’t standing at her kitchen easel completing a new oil or acrylic painting, I could usually find her in our dimly-lit garage, dressed in casual clothing and working intently on another project. As the years passed, she also developed into an expert nature photographer, sculptor, landscape designer, and maker of prints, crafts, assemblage, and collage. Her sheer delight at encountering the world and interpreting it from her own idiosyncratic point of view served as an expressive model for my own artistic aspirations.
Self-Expression as a Way of Life
Inspired by my mother’s creative joie de vivre, I began producing art as soon as I could purposefully utilize my hands as tools. Once, after a violent rain shower, I impulsively brushed gooey swaths of mud onto the stucco siding of our house to create a rudimentary “abstract painting” there. When Mom scolded me and immediately hosed it off without appreciating my artistry, I was cruelly disappointed, but she soon stocked my desk with paper, crayons, and felt pens so I could enjoy this exciting pastime.
At age eight, I remember how confidently I dipped a watercolor brush into paint—almost effortlessly sketching a still-life bouquet of eucalyptus leaves and berries that she had arranged for me in an antique vase and positioned on the kitchen table. Without fear or self-consciousness, I relied on my instincts to determine the length and breadth of each stroke, the curve and density of each color. Until, working in concert, my eyes and hands told the harmonious story perceived by my imagination. Until, finally, I was fully satisfied as a newly minted artist.
Because artistic self-expression gradually became a reflexive response to life for me, I created “Art is Life” in 2012 as a private Facebook page for archiving my work. The process of thumbing through my past efforts and uploading new images was so invigorating that, in 2013, I expanded the page into an international Facebook site for artists and art lovers to share their work and observations on art with others.
Creating the “Art is Life” Community
When it became clear in 2019 that a mysterious virus was sweeping the globe, sheer panic cleared the streets and imprisoned folks in their homes. Members of the “Art is Life” community were just as concerned as others about this enforced, and necessary, isolation, but they instinctively turned to the power of art as an expressive vehicle for healing and connection. Hundreds of individuals joined the group from around the world, posting images and discussing their creative process and intentions with others. Many had never felt courageous enough to share their work, but they were thrilled to finally “come out” as artists in public. Others described the effort of artists who had inspired them in the past or classes they had taken to enrich the expressivity of their technique.
As both curator and webmaster during this challenging time, I’ve intensified my efforts to increase site traffic by introducing stimulating topics for discussion and featuring art that will relieve, rather than exacerbate, anxiety. In addition, I’ve begun featuring the work of formerly isolated, mature artists, debuting the fledgling efforts of new ones, and encouraging members to discuss the work of a diverse selection of their favorites.
Fertile Ground for Inspiration
Just a few months before the pandemic emerged, painter Louise Victor invited me to participate in an online class she conducted from an East Bay, California, art gallery. Focusing on imaginative ways for artists to position objects in still life compositions, she helped us understand how to dynamically engage the emotions of viewers by powerfully guiding their eyes through our work. Although I’m still absorbing the lessons conveyed in this workshop, I was able to create a sketch in acrylic and charcoal that I hope to refine into a completed piece:
I’m also gradually incorporating my understanding of her lessons into the iconography of my photographic work, including the following landscape image, shot shortly after that inspiring class:
Remarkably, a global pandemic that struck fear into hearts throughout the world has also boosted membership in the “Art is Life” community from 1300 to more than 8900 within a single year. By faithfully returning to the site day after day, members are forming deep emotional bonds that will pay creative dividends for years to come.
Here are some examples of the power of art as a unique, expressive vehicle for connection in dire circumstances:
- The South African woman who reminisced about her parents’ lessons on color and design, which inspired her to create a series of drawings during her childhood.
- The gentleman who received encouragement from the community after posting his very first piece of primitive art.
- The talented daughter of one of our members, who unexpectedly shared her first work of art with her mother and may now be taking formal art lessons.
- The woman in despair who found solace in the community’s enthusiastic response to her poetry.
- Countless artists who brought us into their ateliers, teaching our community about their techniques and process.
- The story of an origami artist who transformed his artwork into a full-time career after the dot-com crash of the early 2000s.
- The San Francisco painter who created new works of art after receiving permission to incorporate images created and posted by another “Art is Life” member on the site.
- The community’s enthusiasm for the work of Swedish painter Hilma af Klint, when an article was posted suggesting that she—rather than Wassily Kandinsky or Paul Klee—may have been the first contemporary painter to incorporate abstraction into her technique.
- Civic gardens, art galleries, and museums that provided unique online tours, workshops, and discussions about art during the pandemic.
- The artist from Ghana who garnered appreciative attention for transforming found objects into wearable art.
- The Canadian muralist who transformed her village by incorporating an artistic identity into its buildings and structures.
- Individuals from communities around the globe, who beautified their environments by painting facades and murals.
- First Nation and Australian aboriginal artists who have inspired the artwork of our members.
- The Japanese American artist whose family was interned in California’s Manzanar War Relocation Center during WWII, but went on to teach art at UC Berkeley.
- Representatives of communities like Youth Spirit Artworks in Oakland, California, who are building housing for residents.
- The San Francisco Bay Area educator who curated an “Art During the Pandemic” exhibition of artwork featured during a Zoom-broadcast exhibition tour.
- UC Berkeley’s Botanical Garden, which featured free events that enabled budding artists to develop skills in drawing botanicals and creating wreaths with native plants.
- The African American quilter who created the largest collection of quilts on display in the United States.
- The Columbian artist who utilized multimedia techniques to transform textiles into luminous objects.
- Countless members who took their first art class via Zoom during the pandemic, and several who were able to display their work on “Art is Life” and other virtual exhibit halls.
- Virtual museum tours, including one at The Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento, California, celebrating the centennial of painter Wayne Thiebaud’s birth.
Summing up her experience of the “Art is Life” community, one member explained: “Even during our darkest challenges, the human spirit contains the seeds of physical and spiritual renewal through the miraculous connections enabled by the breathtaking beauty of art.”
About author and webmaster Susan Aberg
After earning a BA degree in Art History (UC Davis, 1978) and taking studio classes from Sacramento-based artists Lois Upham and Wayne Thiebaud, Susan Aberg interned as a curatorial assistant at The Richard Nelson Art Gallery (Davis), E.B. Crocker Art Gallery (Sacramento), The Oakland Museum (Oakland), the De Young Memorial Museum, and Maxwell Art Galleries (San Francisco). She worked as a production weaver for a Bay Area clothing company before launching an event-planning career at the University of California, Berkeley, and creating “Art is Life” on Facebook in 2012.
|Countries Represented by “Art is Life” members|
|Angola||Germany||Papua New Guinea|
|Antiguas and Barbuda||Greenland||Portugal|
|Bosnia and Herzegovina||Kenya||Sweden|
|Cape Verde||Libya||Trinidad and Tobago|
|Côte d’Ivoire||Malawi||United Arab Emirates|
|Democratic Republic of the Congo||Mexico||Venezuela|
|Dominican Republic||Monaco||Wallis & Futuna|
|Ethiopia||Nicaragua||Wallis & Futuna|