I have never been a social person, especially with adults. I like to stay at home and watch Netflix when I should probably be doing homework. The sun would make me feel nauseous, and too much noise would give me a headache. I was not excited to go to Kentuck to any extent. It sounded like a camp in the middle-of-nowhere with nothing but canned beans for food and a lady that was going to give us “Indian” names. Thankfully none of that was true.
Taking place in the small town of Northport, Alabama just outside Tuscaloosa, The Kentuck Festival of the Arts features some of the most brilliant and passionate artists from the most northern part of Washington to the edge of Florida. The cultures mix and match, blending together, creating something strange, but nothing short of comforting and inviting, something akin to motherly warmth.
Kentuck gave me a new understanding of being both an artist and a writer. It gave me the idea that I can write and draw as much as I want. It made me want to do something more than just sit inside. I didn’t know it was so easy.
I just needed to talk to more artists.
I would describe being at Kentuck as an overwhelming feeling that, in the strangest way, left me content. There’s always someone new around the corner, and with them comes a sense of knowing. Kentuck provides a sense of community and honesty, an understanding of what’s being seen, despite how concrete or abstract it may be. The art was more than just traditional 2-D art, 3-D art, photography, and crafts. It ranged from multicolored sunsets and Photoshops to six-foot tall wired bunnies and wooden didgeridoos.
Artists often describe their work as passionate or emotional, some describe it as just a job or feel they have an obligation to meet. Other artists – for instance, Leroy Campbell – believe that art is a way of life. He gave an entirely new aspect to the meaning of life, his own philosophy. His language was passionate and vibrant, excited and real. I would describe Campbell, to be more on the optimistic side of realism, a solemn excitement or happiness within a time of captivity and violence, with slight nostalgia.
The people in Campbell’s works didn’t have names or faces, but showed personalities, and most-often, smiles— with good works come good times! They’re “jazzy” in a way that we hear the music and sound of shoes clacking against the floor, the sound of dancing. He focuses on finding resolution and having revolution, a style based on the Harlem Renaissance as well as the Civil Rights movement, primarily the ‘60s. His 3-D pieces of art consist of real objects from those time periods. They ranged from small pieces of jewelry and mirrors to (rusted) saxophones, stained glass, worn-down piano keys, and a pair of dancing shoes. The historical concepts of those items told a story, each piece had a memory. The piano, the saxophone, and the dancing shoes could be seen and heard the moment I laid eyes on them. Meeting Campbell was like meeting the art. No matter what type, art should represent the artist and the message it’s trying to get through.
“Past and future can stifle you,” Campbell said.
It was something to remember, regarding both art and life. Sometimes looking at old works helps in becoming better, not the best, but, better. However, constantly looking towards to the future and allowing worries to become the ultimate look-to only allows more worrisome things to enter your life and eventually your art. Accepting and moving on from the past has always been the goal of mankind, and our main problem. Campbell is the only person, the only artist, I’ve heard say to forget about the future and focus on what’s in front of you.
“Creative process forces you to find a solution,” he remarked.
I found that learning means finding something that you didn’t even know you didn’t know. That one simple sentence suddenly had my mind going through hoops, only to realize it was something that had never been said.
Hearing it being put into words made me think about it more than I ever thought to. I hear the moment repeat in my head, his words exactly, and as I write, I remind myself that I don’t need to worry about the solution. I’ll figure something out when I get there. Worry about the now, and you’ll fix the now. Worry about the future and you’ll miss everything.
“Our solutions are the beautiful part,” he said. I knew my eyes must’ve been sparkling by then.
It felt strange to hear someone outside of school discuss art in a way that sounded like it was full of life. Every artist gets tired of their work, we all eventually get tired of looking at it. I tend to look at something I like until I hate it, it’s a bad habit amongst most of us. Throughout life, we go through trial and error, it’s what life is. Always, constantly looking for a solution, but the solution could be living all in itself. At one point or another, the solution smacks you in the face, and suddenly the world feels clearer than ever. Whether it’s personal problem, a piece of art, or maybe even your writing, there’s always a solution to everything. Sometimes stepping away is the best option, maybe stepping away is the solution.
When Leroy Campbell said, “Art creates connections,” as cliché as it sounds, it moved me. There was something in that breath that made everything tangible.
My writing is something that can be touched and controlled, but I’m the only one that can do that. All the saved documents on my computer, flash drive, and God-knows-where-else . . . just a bunch of unfinished stories that taunt me. Some of them are titled as ‘ughh I don’t have a title,’ or ‘REWRITE THIS,’ the others are just thrown away or incomplete and surprisingly, people are waiting on it, waiting for more of me. I was recently told that while my story was amazing, the poetic excerpts from my poetry were a fundamental part of it, one of the most beautiful parts that help make the story. I almost cried. Eventually, everything connects to one another, and one thing can draw the whole thing together.
Knowing that feels so good.
I didn’t get to talk to many artists, but surprisingly, meeting Leroy Campbell made Kentuck one of the most exciting events of my young writing career. I wasn’t excited to go to Kentuck, not even last year when our trip got cancelled. But, going to the festival has given me an entirely different outlook on life, and I am grateful for that.