Clayton Singleton's art is unapologetically sincere. He captures and brings together the principles of Black history and family, therefore creating Black Family History.
A beautiful means of expression, the warmth and identity of his art creates a visual family tree rooted in the past, flourishing in the present. His work allows the viewer to relate and connect, making them part of his wonderful art.
Your art is powerful, can you tell us your inspirations and motivations behind your work?
The motivations and inspirations behind my work focuses on the human will to create our own stories and outcomes; education, aspirations, courage, perseverance, and beauty are essential in this journey.
Since a child, I’ve been aware of external forces sculpting people’s lives. I’d hear of restrictions on Black people, colored as my parents would say, women, poorer class, gay.. you name it... As I grew, I realized each person I knew, in any of those categories, wanted to not be in those boxes, those squares... they wanted to have a life of their own. It seemed like the world was playing four-square and they could never rotate to the A-square which meant they could never serve... which means they were always in response and react mode... they didn’t have control of their own stories.
I believe each of us wants to write our own story. The goal with my work is to say out loud that yes you can write your own story! You can be the Protagonist! You can create an ending to your liking. It’s the instance that we use our pens, pencils, chalks, and crayons to sketch it, paint it, sing it, write it, dance it, perform it— something. Anything to get your voice out into the wind.
As a teacher, how important is expression for the next generation?
As a teacher of 26 years, I watched how expression plays an essential role in human development. I may be over simplifying this but I believe we have an innate need to create - to affect change. If we aren’t constructive in our creativity, we become destructive in our creativity.
We are going to create. I think too often we associate a expression with construction... on the other hand, that child, that student, that people, who doesn’t have a constructive arena, they will destroy if for nothing more than the power of affecting change. Human beings need a space and place for constructive expression. Whether that be any of the traditional arts or in daily art living. These are what I call breathable arts.. things we do everyday beyond the canon... things such as gardening.. that’s creative and expressive.
Whether it’s bringing order to your home - stacking dishes and organizing the drawers.. we don’t see these as creative, but we organize by size and shape, we seek to utilize the space “properly". We have different drawers and shelves for various function and forms of cutlery and dishware... it sounds absurd I’m certain but art is everywhere... it’s in everything we do... I feel if we broaden our understanding of what art and expression is, we will find multiple joys.
Expression as a human being is paramount. If we don’t express our experiences we can literally lose who we are as a culture as a people. When I’m teaching, I’m attempting to share this broad view of culture, identity, personal expression... I believe since many of our young people have so much time to occupy, they need the arts maybe even more than generations before us.
Art reminds us of our humanity. Life isn’t digital. Digitals record the life we/ someone else is living - the event. Art is the recording of the experience not the event. This is closer to understanding one another than it is remembering the act someone took. What good is action without understanding.
The next generation needs expression to reinforce tangible experiences in addition to digitized sharing of events. They need to feel the weight of chains and jewellery bonding them to humanity.
You have helped rewrite an art curriculum, what do you feel art education is missing?
Through the process of writing a curriculum, I’ve learned that art education is missing the blended narrative and the immediacy of history. We don’t teach concurrent histories as well as we should. Students need to know history is happening all of the time everywhere - that’s where our blended narrative/our shared narrative exists. Instead of a segment of what the world was doing, what, when and how... we should teach what all of the world was doing, when, what and how. Of course there’s curating information here... but the world is always happening... it’s hard to segment it, then try to compare movements.
To oversimplify - what was happening all over the world in 1500, 2000, 2010? - what art was being created by different people’s at the same time? Also, history is immediate. We should teach from now to then not from then to now. That makes no sense. You don’t give someone eggs, flour, sugar, dye, extract, and cocoa and say, “hey, put this in your mouth...you’re gonna love it!” We don’t... we give people cake! Everyone loves cake! So my art classes give students cake!
Then let’s break it down and understand why it tastes like it does, then decide what could we do to augment it.. to recreate it or create something new. I think teaching art this way allows students to connect themselves to the human condition.. the human continuum. They begin to see art as human expression and not just a bunch of dead white guys, and a few “others” who have grabbed a square for themselves. Learners need to understand that art is everywhere and everyone’s an artist.. you just have to find what your art is. It’s not magic though it can be magical.
We should teach them that art is a business and it has market measures the way cars do... they can then understand why Basquiat sells for millions and six figures even though it looks like “they could do it”. When we teach them about art in the now - they are more inclined to understand the why because they too are living it. I think art curricula also needs rigorous standards.. benchmarks that extend from local state and national benchmarks. Coming up with things to do is not cool. Curriculum should be about ways to think - the doing is a by product of the thinking and skills are acquisitions from the doing. Teachers are to set framework/problems to solve, then students are to work from the inside out.
What is your message, your philosophy?
My message... my philosophy...
Love. Love is where I start. It embodies commitment faith and endurance. It embodies acceptance, knowledge and unknowing - I don’t need to know everything - I’m good.
I think love allows us to let things and people be. When I love you, I don’t need to control or change you... I can accept you - if that means I got to roll because I love myself then cool. I’m good. Love allows me to see things as they are, not how I want them to be. I also believe we shouldn’t punk out. If you want to go for something, go for it. Do it.
Lastly, learn yourself and be honest with yourself. Love you. Be able to spend time with yourself without feeling “by yourself”. If you can become company you enjoy, you’re then able to create a life you’ll love - even if it’s not the life...it’s a life you’ll love and in turn others will love the artful life you’re expressing. It’s a life of giving away love. Happiness.
All images by and courtesy of Clayton Singleton