The Humanities Celebration at Lewis University includes exhibits and presentations in the new Art Gallery which has become one of the most inviting new spaces on campus. The current exhibit (through September 26th) is Lindsay Olson’s “Tools of the Trade: A Resident’s View of Law Enforcement.”
Lindsay Olsen spoke to students and faculty last week and demonstrated the wide reach of the humanities in daily life. She was an “artist in residence” at the Oak Park Police Department for four years (2008-2012). She had noted the bare walls of the below ground police offices and suggested to the police chief that she could place her art on the wall to connect the working officers with the natural world. He agreed and an experiment began.
In 2008 Lindsay Olson’s work was, according to her, landscapes painted in an impressionistic style. She brought in other artists: painters, weavers, and photographers to exhibit on the walls of police station. The aim continued to be to bring police officers in contact with the arts.
But then something unexpected happened to Lindsay Olson. The police station, the police officer, and police work changed her own art dramatically. Rather than continuing along well developed paths, her work transformed into conceptual art.
This new style of work was the intersection of the artist and the work of the police station. Rather than a bucolic landscapes, the canvases now display the tools of the police work: the notes taken, the reports filed, the human factors in interaction of the police with the public.
I found one theme of Ms. Olson’s work particularly striking: she noted that police work involves writing and recording and reporting. The pen is a major tool of the police officer. Her break through conceptual drawing is that of three pens, rendered in ink. The barrels of the pen are massive, well defined vertical structures, but the nibs of the pens have dissolved into tendrils of calligraphy: the words of police reports dangling from the pens in gossamer lines.
The humanities are the study of mankind. Artists live and work among us and are reflectors and commentators on our mental lives, our work lives, and our quotidian reality. Lindsay Olson’s work shows the profound intersection between the artist and her subject matter: she came to change the police offices and found that the police work has changed her own work.