Art Therapy

The Starting Line, Editor’s Letter, Dec. 2016

Originally published in San Diego Jewish Journal

By Natalie Jacobs

There was a panel session at the annual conference of the American Jewish Press Association in D.C. exactly one week after Donald Trump won the Electoral College vote for President, called “The Challenges of Covering the Elections/Campaigns.” The first question was some version of “How come we didn’t see this coming?” to which the panel of journalists yelled, “Blame the polls!”

One of the three admitted, “polls are like catnip to reporters.” In the Nov. 11 edition of the WNYC/NPR show On the Media, Brooke Gladstone went a step further to liken polls to “cocaine-laced M&Ms” for reporters.

Curiously, in an early morning session at the Jewish Federations of North America’s General Assembly held across the street from the AJPA conference, two pollsters, a Democrat and a Republican, spoke at length in defense of their position that it wasn’t the polls that were wrong, but in fact the people reading the polls (mostly, reporters) who were wrong.

One of the reporters on the “Challenges” panel attempted to explain polls by saying they’re important tools for journalists to “keep a finger on the pulse” of the American electorate. If this is their true function, then I’m wondering, where are the polls now? How come we don’t wake up every day to news like “Sixty percent of Americans are scared to death of what the world will look like after Jan. 20, 2017;” or “Polls show Anxiety has a three point lead over Optimism and the race doesn’t appear to be tightening in any key swing states”?

Writing for Vanity Fair, Nick Bilton urged people to turn Trump’s own narcissistic fascination with the polls around on him – “When Gallup calls you,” Bilton writes, “or an invitation to participate in a poll pops up online asking you for Trump’s approval rating as President, consider this: if he’s done something that you don’t agree with … you can give him a big fat zero. Unlike President Obama, who seemed undeterred by his ratings, those numbers could eat at Trump’s insides.”

After that panel discussion in D.C., fuming from the feeling that nothing will change because everyone is pointing fingers at everyone else, I decided to ditch the conference’s final day in favor of a trip to the Renwick Gallery. I was craving unabashed new perspective on this upside-down world. I needed to be immersed in beauty and fearlessness and courage.

Within the marble walls of the small Smithsonian gallery dedicated to contemporary American craft, the world and all of its troubles were dulled to a tolerable pitter-patter in the back of my mind. I saw bone shredded and sculpted into a rose, a massive effort of felt turned into a lush green landscape, wood flowed as fluid as drapery. And for one blissful hour, I mostly forgot that 130 million people with pre-existing medical conditions may no longer be able to buy health insurance; it didn’t worry me that over-consumption and under-conservation may leave the earth ravaged of resources and unlivable for my children’s children; the hypocrisy of discrimination was slightly less sickening.

Don’t think of it as escapism, more like a temporary redirecting of energies, a small investment in a new way of seeing, thinking, and feeling.

There is so much power in art. Twice a year, we at the San Diego Jewish Journal dedicate almost entire editions to the display and discussion of that power. In the following pages you will encounter art that is political, family friendly, hanging by a thread, meant to document our world, meant to challenge our assumptions, ending, beginning, and all around us. It is my view that art and its many permutations are more important to indulge in now than ever. If you heard about the ruckus between Mike Pence, the Broadway smash hit “Hamilton” and Donald Trump’s harassment claims, then you know what I’m talking about. There is so much work to be done just to maintain our grips on what matters to us, but it’s also important every once in a while to take a time-out in favor of seeking new perspective. If we’re doing our jobs right, then this issue will offer a small bit of that.