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Connecting through Art: What Does It Mean to be Human in the 21st Century?

By Jeanne Beck

For over 20 years I’ve been a mixed media artist and painter. Outside of taking some workshops and classes, I’ve spent most of that time working alone in my studio.

While I love solitude, enjoy my own company and can focus deeply when working alone, I recognize too much of it can lead to isolation. “We are hardwired to connect with others, it’s what gives purpose and meaning to our lives, and without it there is suffering,” Brené Brown writes - and I agree.

So what better way to connect with other artists than sharing a creative space? With that in mind, I invited two local artists, Barbara McPhail and Dianne Murphy Eagle, to my large Canandaigua studio for a month-long artist residency. We selected a common theme of “What Does It Means to be Human in the 21st Century?” which we’re approaching in individual ways.

Barbara McPhail, an art teacher and accomplished printmaker, will focus on “re-telling” the work of Käthe Kollwitz. Kollwitz was a German printmaker whose dramatic, emotion-filled etchings, woodcuts, and lithographs confronted social injustice and suffering in Germany during both the First and Second World Wars. Barb will work on a linoleum block print in response to a Kollwitz series entitled, "The Peasant Wars.”

Dianne Murphy Eagle, a retired art teacher who taught high school for 30 years, is a printmaker and collagist. She will approach conversation, human interaction & moods using imagery and mono printing. Her printing “plate“ involves cutting or tearing shapes from junk mail and then applying layers of colored inks and textures. Diane’s printmaking style is unique because she embellishes her prints with a variety of treasure, including beads, lace, fabric and pieces of magazine images.

As for me, I’ve just completed 18 months of producing 40 new works for two solo shows and group exhibitions. It’s been intense and challenging but also immensely satisfying.

During our residency I’m gathering images for future paintings. Most are metaphors for connecting –electricity poles, telephone wires, suspension bridges, handwritten correspondence, streams and rivers – as well as making my own brushes from twigs and found materials to explore new ways of mark making.

My fellow artists-in-residence and I are sharing ideas and resources and learning from each other, enjoying conversations about everything from food to how we make creative choices as works develop.

I’m also learning how much intensity and focus we each bring to our work. We use different techniques to create but beyond that we share important commonalities in our commitment and passion for creative expression.

It felt like a risk at first to open my studio to work with other artists, but now I see what a rich opportunity it offers.

Jeanne Beck Art Gallery & Studio is located at 154 Mill Street, Canandaigua, NY.

For hours, directions and other information please visit:

Celebration Party: On Saturday, December 1, 12- 4 PM, we invite you to come help us celebrate this first residency project. Enjoy free refreshments and great conversations with the artists as you see the works we’ve produced this month.

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