Autumn Absurdities

By: Lisa Hoffman, curator of education on September 16th, 2020

I like the word “absurd” and mental images it conjures – ridiculous, silly, incongruous . . . like a duck on a bike. Birds in Art artist David Milton agrees. He chose his painting’s subject – the 1950s tin toy – at the start of the coronavirus quarantine as a metaphor for the absurdity of the situation we are experiencing.

David Milton, Duck on Bike, 2020, watercolor and pastel on Arches paper

When life was more typical, I led and shared in-person art experiences with a middle school student during his monthly Woodson Art Museum visits. No matter the medium, subject, or process, this student added a silly character to the composition. Quite articulately, he stated his art isn’t complete without a whimsical flourish. I believe he enjoyed the viewer’s look of amusement – during a time before face masks, when facial expressions were more visible and readable. Together, the student and I chose the word “absurd” to describe the added element.

I took delight in David Milton’s artist statement; it brought a smile as I reflected on lighthearted moments connecting with this young Woodson Art Museum program participant.

Because I annually blog an ode to autumn, I’ll dub 2020 the Absurd Autumn. We resemble ducks on bikes, familiar characters and familiar circumstances interacting incongruously. The leaves are turning colors. It’s becoming light-sweater weather. School begins.

Elwin van der Kolk, Aunt Betsy’s View, 2019, acrylic on linen

As we pedal faster – and along some roads and to goals that are truly difficult and challenging – I hope we can each discover a daily “smile.” Find toys from your childhood and play. Grab a pencil and draw. Take a walk and watch a squirrel. Whistle a tune. Create a daily hide-and-seek with a figurine, documenting its journey in photos or words. Bake bread. Cook comfort foods. Search for the duck-on-a-bike tin toy hidden in a Museum Art Park cubby.

Jhenna Quinn Lewis, The Coloring Book Page, 2020, oil on cotton-blend canvas on aluminum board

The Woodson Art Museum galleries are filled – for the forty-fifth consecutive year – with extraordinary avian art from around the world. Visit – always admission free – to refresh, reflect, be inspired, and smile.

PS I’ve tested each of my smile-generating suggestions, and they yield reliable and valid results.

Scot A. Weir, Age of Innocence, 2019, oil on canvas

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