Mark Davis is an artist of dancing light and ethereal shapes. His stabiles may be as small as desk accessories; his mobiles expansive as a flock of birds. His work is joyful and buoyant. Yet he revealed another side of himself when asked, “How will we live tomorrow?”
We are wearing out the planet. Our ability to conquer disease is increasing the number of people on earth, and increasing our lives, but we are thwarting nature.
I counter my worries by spending time with young people, whom I find to be both well-intentioned and well-meaning without thirsting for power. Growing up with the Internet, the young embrace being connected to everything all the time. They can choose to act or not, but that cannot be unaware. Being so thoroughly connected to each other affects their private lives in fundamental ways. They may not be involved in creating political change, but they have absorbed the entire world in a fundamental way. Those of us who did not grow up with this connectivity don’t experience it so completely.
The conservative backlash that we see in our country is just the response to changes in our society that are happening anyway. We are becoming more and more accepting of different ways of being. I mean, gay marriage? Who saw that coming, and yet here it is, and it is here to stay. Some people need the security of a world with a bad guy, something they can point to as wrong to make them feel okay about themselves.”
I ask Mark if we have to hate what we don’t understand:
Why is it that, when I have a day that I feel good 95 percent of the time, but then something bad happens for 5 percent, the 5% bad overwhelms the 95% good? There is actually scientific evidence that the neurotransmitters that respond to negative events are more powerful than those that respond to positive ones. That’s how we learn to avoid dangerous and unhealthy aspects of our environment, from an evolutionary standpoint. Some also postulate that’s why anxiety is ever on the rise – the people who survive are the doubters.
Cultures go through phases of risk-taking and anxiety. Right now the United States is stuck. We have been a nation of risk-takers who got great rewards for a long time. But our supremacy is over and we have to accept a certain amount of humility.
I am 61 years old. When I turned 60 I was doing okay, making a decent living and doing more and more commissions. But I was not doing what I wanted, I wasn’t doing what I am capable of, and at 60, just doing okay isn’t sustaining. By the time you’re 60, you want to feel like you’ve figured life out. And of course I haven’t.
I read this incredible article a few years ago about a writer living in a small town in Mexico. It was poor, and people died early, often tragic deaths. But the people were full of life. They had an energy and joy that we have lost. The American psyche is weighed down with big expectation. We have to be the biggest and the best. The result is power and greed, the ugly extreme of capitalism. People are disillusioned because we have not achieved our vision. What is left is empty greed and power. We overcame the frontier, we triumphed in World War II and we reigned over the American Century. But where are we now? We don’t know.
I ask Mark if he recognizes the dichotomy between his work, which is so light and playful, and his thoughts about the future:
My art is all joy. But I believe that my struggles and doubts, my darker side, contribute to it in important ways. My thoughts and my creations are complementary parts of me.