Walking around Jackson Square in New Orleans, it is nearly impossible not to become captivated by the dozens of artists showing their wares. The media range from acrylic paint to metal work to abstract sculpture pieces.
I spent the week of March 23 in New Orleans, experiencing local food, music and art. During this week, I circled Jackson Square more than a dozen times, each time met by a different set of street artists, along with the fortune tellers, jazz bands and magicians.
The artists themselves are a massive part of the New Orleans experience, and what fascinated me was that the majority of their work reflected this sentiment.
Artist Laura Welter moved to New Orleans directly after finishing her formal education at the Academy of Art in San Francisco. Welter makes her living painting geographical silhouettes onto salvaged wood and recycled fabric.
“I have been working in my medium for about three years,” she said, “I was doing a lot of figure work and, I don’t know, I just got bored. So I started doing the map stuff and I enjoy it. I think they look really cool, and I’m still doing new stuff all the time.”
Another artist, Bedonna Magid-Wakeman, covers her segment of the wrought-iron fence surrounding the square with acrylic works depicting jazz musicians and other Louisiana landmarks.
Wakeman had previously shown her other work in Paris and Zurich, but when she moved to the “Big Easy,” her artwork and the reaction to it changed drastically.
“New Orleans is the only place to sell your art [in public],” said Wakeman, “In Paris you have to run from the police… in Zurich you have only limited days. Due to the groove of New Orleans, you can produce something very commercial or do something esoteric and it still sells here.”
The New Orleans atmosphere is beautiful, and artists get more than they bargain for by moving here. They expect to find somewhere to sell what they do, but in the end, it is hard not to fall in love with the atmosphere of the city. And the work itself morphs into New Orleans appreciation.
In fact, if not for the environment in which the artists paint, would their art be the same?
In my opinion, art itself is affected by a complex variety of factors: who the artist is, where they are and why they are creating, to name a few.
It is easy to believe that art is the way it is simply due to a conscious decision made by a free spirit who happens to have particular skill with a paintbrush, producing a piece that will either make them famous or broke.
But for the artist, it is so much more. Each piece is a direct result of atmosphere – and the histories of both atmosphere and artist. In New Orleans, this history is full of music and incredible food, and this culture drives the art itself.
This environment allows artists a unique opportunity, not only to sell their art on the street, but also to fall in love with a city that will change the way they approach art.