The Impact Of Art And Of One Artist

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If we did not have artists in our world, we would drown. We would be buried in the mundane world of work and mortgage. There would be the struggle to survive, but there would never be a moment when we would be lifted above that struggle -- to gain perspective on it, to laugh at it, to understand that we are not alone.

Before he died, Kurt Vonnegut published a book titled, "A Man Without a Country."

It's a small paperback that you can read over a pot of coffee; a collection of thoughts from a man looking back at his life and trying to understand his experience here on Earth.

In one chapter, he turns to his son and asks him about the purpose of life.

The son answers, "We are here to help each other get through this thing, whatever it is."

That, more than anything, is the purpose of the artist. To soothe us with a passage in a book, to pierce our heart with the imagery in a painting, to overwhelm us underneath the ceiling of a great work of architecture or simply to remind us, through a song on the car stereo that there is more to life than getting to the post office.

Artists are here to intervene -- to keep us human, as life works to harden us.

If you look at the salaries of the average artist, you know that it's not a role that our society values, despite the fact that it's something we desperately need.

This week, when a local artist died, it swept through this town like a wave -- from those who knew him well, to those who had only met him once.

Mike Rokoff's work may never make it into an Art History 101 slideshow of important works, but that does not mean his work wasn't important.

He told this story about his career working for Hallmark. They paid him to travel around the country and listen to what people were saying.

He would sit in truck stops and coffee shops and listen.

"Wear clothes that don't draw attention to you," he said. He would settle into the background and take in the conversations. From California to Iowa, people were always talking about the same thing -- relationships, all kinds.

He absorbed the conversations of the nation, and with his thick pen and his wry sense of humor, he spit them back out at us -- on greeting cards and on limited edition prints.

Look at a piece of Mike Rokoff's artwork and the message is a simple as the line drawings themselves: Life is only hard if you take it seriously.

It's a message that will live on long after him through the art he left behind.

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