By Chris Damgen
In third grade, I entered into a nationwide traffic safety poster contest that was sponsored by the American Automobile Association. The poster I drew showed a very disproportional drawing of kids playing soccer (yes, soccer) away from traffic, separated by a house drawn at a different perspective angle than other items. In spite of my major transgression, the poster managed to come into second place in New Jersey’s statewide competition before being awarded the best poster in the nation, much to my surprise. Shows the level of respect New Jersey has in traffic related matters, apparently.
So what did I do with my $125 prize? Did I spend it on art supplies or lessons or a summer camp experience?
No. I bought a Sega Genesis video game system, of course.
You see, being an artist was kinda uncool among boys growing up in my town, and in countless others across the country. The cool kids in our age group were supposed to be interested in sports and video games and nothing “artsy.” Within a few years, in an effort to tag along with the in-crowd, I had dropped my interest in visual art, gave away my saxophone to charity, and didn’t bother to attend any plays or performances. Only the weirdos and sissies did those things. It didn’t matter that my teachers saw potential in me to develop those skills. All that mattered is that I fit in, which to a certain degree, I did.
Since moving to the Lowcountry, I have begun to reconsider how I come to appreciate art. Peer pressure and teenage stereotypes just don’t seem to matter much anymore. Friendships are established based on personalities and not on pursuits. In my cherished friendships in this town, I am fortunate to count football coaches, politicians, business owners, and retirees as friends, among others. They have enriched my appreciation for Beaufort and its people. However, one group of friends has surprised me more than others in their contributions to Beaufort’s social scene — the artists.
The artists in this town have significant respect and face dire circumstances on a daily basis. They bask in pride as Beaufort is named one of the top art towns in the country due to their efforts, yet have to fiercely mobilize other efforts to protect financial support from the public. They have faithfully painted the vast landscapes and abundant wildlife of the Lowcountry while many of their peers scrape by to pay their rent in the galleries on Bay Street. They have performed countless productions of American classics on stage yet were stung when their main organization literally robbed them. Despite it all, they still produce things of beauty that capture the human imagination.
I will admit that without these friends, I would not have gone to seen “Our Town” last weekend at ARTworks, or have strolled past galleries during the Art Walks that the Guild puts together. I also admit that I don’t consider myself a connoisseur of art. I will testify that I can recite winners of sports championships and losers of political scandals better than I can discuss Tony Award winners and French transcendentalists. My trivia categories on Thursday nights too often neglect art, and when it comes up, the complaints come in from many who play.
But my hope is this: Perhaps one day I can fully come to appreciate art for what it is and how it contributes to our lives and to the community that we love. Perhaps the cool kids will one day have a similar experience.