“Truth seems really important to you.” These words, spoken by my graduate school professor, have stuck with me. I felt alone and separate at that moment, as if I were somehow naive or focusing on the wrong thing. I can remember thinking, what else is there within great art but truth? When I stand before an expansive work of art, I feel the honesty of the artist’s emotions; I feel empathy for the true human experience; or I take in the beauty of the work, a kind of truth all its own. I have never more often quaked than when in the presence of exceptional art.
Being a convinced Quaker has given me the support I have needed to create art that holds space for truth.
Todd Drake, Self Portrait as Whale, from Rising, a series about global warming; 12″ x 12″; linocut print on paper.
I have painted my way through the loss of loved ones. Alone in my studio, I created paintings that spoke to the loss of my father, step-father, and mother. I discovered the truth that my family still resided in me and in our shared memories. Their lives still speak truths to me even after their passing.
I have painted and photographed the world around me and built bridges of empathy with others including Muslim Americans; undocumented immigrants; Palestinians; and deeply traumatized children, including those taken from their parents at the U.S. border. Through the many wonderful people I met in these projects, I discovered the truth that we cannot define human worth in only one way, or discount others as less than full and equal humans. My engagement with these communities helped me see and relate to others the full, complex, human stories behind the stereotypes and political one-liners meant to inflame passions.
Todd Drake, Requiring Help, from Other Tears, a series about children’s reactions to trauma; 12″ x 16″; watercolor and ink.
Recently, through my linocuts and letterpress printing, I have begun grappling with the loss of beloved, natural environments to the rising tides of global warming. I have also searched for hope within this topic, knowing that humans will not act without the leading of hope.
Todd Drake, Persist, from Rising, a series about global warming; 18″ x 24″; linocut print on paper.
My current project looks at the 1838 burning by a racist mob of the Pennsylvania Hall (a.k.a. the Temple of Free Discussion), built in large part by Quakers, and its relevance to current threats to our democracy, including the January 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol and the rise of White supremacy as a political power base. Being frozen because of the enormity and seriousness of these truths risks all our lives. I, like many others, could not process these topics without the synthesizing power of art.
Why are Quakers embracing the arts today? I believe it is because the arts help us better discern and take in truth. Now, after decades of making art, I know just how important that is—for us all.
Todd Drake, Hurricane Season, from Rising, a series about global warming; 30″ x 41″; ink and acrylic on paper.