Artist as Therapist

Rorschach ink blot

Jacquline Hurlbert is packing her artwork to head for an event in Bend, Oregon, and we talk about how an artist tells one story but the viewer sometimes sees something quite different. The Rorschach test is brilliant: it allows the viewer to express her views based on an inkblot, revealing something about herself. Something that would be otherwise hidden.

Jacquline’s sculptures and paintings prove to be foils to one’s inner neuroses. She shows me a painting called Stolen Property. Jacquline tells me she’s trying to show how, in this new media-technology age, folks can lift something from, say, the Internet, and claim it as their own.

Technology allows us to cut-and-paste someone else’s ideas whether they give permission or not. “And I think that means a little bit of yourself is destroyed,” she says.

Jacquline creates odd, weird and fun ceramics including a series called winged creatures. Not angels, she says. Someone once asked her if the creations were satanic, which never occurred to her. “People see what they want.”

My mind jumps to the discourse over American Indian knowledge and how stories, medicine, crafts and art have been appropriated. Take, for example, the images of Kokopelli that permeate pop culture. My understanding is that images of Kokopelli have a sacred component, and yet Kokopelli appears on water bottles and key chains. I doubt anyone asked permission of the Hopi people to purloin the images.

I have the same reaction when I see simulations of Van Gogh’s Starry Night: you can find its image on T-shirts and canvas totes.

Doesn’t this reclaiming of Van Gogh and Kokopelli diminish the artist and storyteller’s intent? By placing Kokopelli on a magnet aren’t we reducing the image to a visual trademark like Coca-Cola? When we replicate Starry Night on a handbag and trim the painting so it will fit the bag, aren’t we quietly destroying the original?

Jean Baudrillard would likely say, see, I told you so. Sometime we celebrate the mash-up, especially in music. Sometimes we say the appropriation is a tribute to the artist. Baudrillard would say that the simulation destroys the original.

See Jacquline’s work at


About Cynthia Coleman Emery

Professor and researcher at Portland State University who studies science communication, particularly issues that impact American Indians. Dr. Coleman is an enrolled citizen of the Osage Nation.
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