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The meaning of art to the 'Birdman'

“Redbird” by Curt Clonts.
Curt Clonts
Courtesy Photo
“Redbird” by Curt Clonts.

I put my artwork out on show last Friday night. Birds. My new paintings mostly contain images of birds. It’s a return to a subject matter that I explored some years back. I had quit making paintings of birds because people began referring to me as “the birdman”, and I grew tired of it. I had other ideas beyond the birds, and so I painted on. I forgot their meaning and what they meant to me.

Friday night I listened to folks at the opening telling me what they see in my paintings and what my birds mean to them. I loved hearing that. It’s a real treat for me to know that my work has inspired thought at all. I got to hear many interpretations of my work, many of which I hadn’t considered. And nobody was wrong-- because art is meant to provoke thought. We seek meaning in works of art and are entitled to whatever our thoughts are on every piece before us.

When asked, I keep it simple. I say the birds symbolize freedom and leave it at that. But now I will tell you what they mean to me. They stand against man’s thumb on man. They stand against tyrannical persecution, bigotry, and extremism in all its forms. They are the souls of our loved and departed. A bird dies and another is born, carrying out its free existence, like the one before it. People die and what we do is hope the world will get better than it is now and that we will stop chewing ourselves to pieces.

But nobody wants to hear all that at an art opening, and I don’t want to say it.

Beyond today’s words I will continue to let the paintings do the talking.

And if anyone calls me “Birdman” in the future I will simply smile and say “Thank you”.

Curt Clonts is a Wichita-born artist who volunteers as KMUW's art reviewer. When Curt isn’t working in his College Hill studio he is usually spending time with his wife, kids, and grandkids. He also spends the spring and summer months kayaking and camping.