Guns are tools for killing.
TL;DR: I share my opinions about guns, gun control and gun violence, especially after yet another mass shooting event on June 28, 2018. I don't have a precise, clear stance- but I'm for moderation and good, logical controls on dangerous tools of all kinds.
And I need to talk about my art, which contains and glorifies violence.
Warning: If you are triggered by discussions of violence, I get into it a lot of discussion on that below, and I'm trying to take a bird's eye view, so it may seem somewhat insensitive.
Why am I making paintings of guns?
I think of guns through one main factor: force multiplication.
In and of itself, I believe that force is a last resort. A final desperation of action when nothing else that we have will work. Force basically equals violence. Violence is the word we use for force being applied, usually and primarily to a sentient thing, for reasons (or a particularly important pile of rocks and sticks, also for reasons).
Force needs to be multiplied in certain instances. A greater force multiplier can mean greater safety for an individual soldier or fighting force, a safer police officer or a bigger meal for a hungry hunter or a community. It depends greatly on the application of force- the style and finesse of the required violence. Good things can come from the application of highly multiplied violence, but but violence always carries a toll, and force multiplication can, in the wrong hands at the wrong time, exacerbate terror and horror. This is the argument where everything is a weapon- even a pencil- it's a sharp stick, but it's just one, small stick. Force multipliers mean more sticks, more efficiency, etc etc on and suddenly the hands of a child or a mentally unwell person might hold the lives of a dozen or more in one hand.
Why am I making paintings of guns?
I am generally pro gun control. But I'm not specifically or fervently anti-gun. I'd like to accept that anti-gun and anti-violence are the best available stances... But my actual feelings are more complex than that. Holding solely to non-violence might be an incredibly impractical stance in a world where so much violence exists.
I do believe that all violence is born of final, otherwise unresolvable desperation. So... I'm anti-malice. But that's not a saying. And it's not a saying relative to gun control in a state where guns are so easily obtained...
I'm really pro "enforcement of the laws on the books" which is also nebulous (and dodges the question somewhat) because some laws are shitty ones that we shouldn't have... and some are impossible to enforce... and some are enforced in insanely lopsided ways... but still. I wish there could be massive reform based on recent behavior (too recent, every time). But I don't think it will happen, based on the reality on the ground. And we don't get to legislate with the congress we want, we get to legislate with the congress we have (so- PLEASE VOTE!!!).
It bears mentioning that I own a gun, simply because it is so easy to own a gun in my country (USA) and especially in my state (VA). While it may seem like a contradiction to some who know me, it is, I think, a necessary one. Unfortunately, for a mere citizen, logic dictates that I require the option to equalize the force multiplier(s) that might- and ONLY might- be brought against me. I need it for that "worst case scenario" we all dread- invasion, attack or social catastrophe.
Important note: I am familiar with the fact that that is a kind of logical fallacy- the argument for (or against) what would be deemed an 'overwhelming exception'. My opinion will be, until there is a radical shift in the availability of force multipliers in my country and state: too bad, this is the only argument where at least the option to defend my position also needs to be equated to the option to defend my life. I have a plan and supplies to keep food and water in an emergency- I also have a plan and supplies for defense.
I mean that literally. It is too bad. It is a genuine shame that I feel like there is no option other than to own a gun in a world and place where gun violence is so prevalent. And one begets the other. It makes me feel sorrow, but I cannot exchange my sorrow for lack of an option in the worst case scenario.
So that leads me inevitably back to: Why am I making paintings of guns?
Why render depictions of tools of violence on a huge scale? Am I worshipping at the alter of fire and chaos and force multiplication? The hypocrisy and the dichotomy is rife, and I can only say how I feel about it, so here we go...
It's not easy. My answer isn't clear cut. It's in a muddy place, possibly logically and also psychologically and socially. But this is me having that discussion (with at least myself), and asking for input, should anyone wish to give it.
1. They're from a video game. And that game has a meaning all its own. And it carries a morally good message.
This is the muddiest part.
Video games, along with many other social activities (especially those tied to newer technology), are being studied even more deeply to understand their impact on the mind. But taking it from experience and from some great research that's already been done, when we skip past the false argument of "video games make people violent" and move on to better discussions, the merits are easy to find. They can be used for training, therapy and just common, everyday relaxation and stress relief. I'm not interested in any false narrative, I'm interested in how helpful even an impossible or fantastical simulation can be to an individual.
And importantly, the paintings I'm talking about are of things in Destiny, a game about saving the world from the dregs (literally) of the galaxy in order to uplift and protect the people we hold dear.
If that doesn't count for something, I don't know what does. It's not about shooting other people (especially not just people of color, which is a too-prevalent issue in video games)- it's about shooting invading monsters who bring only death, which is the best way we have to code and accept acts of violence (though you know, I'd like to meet some friendly aliens, too, even in Destiny).
2. Art helps people.
I'm not a doctor, but one time someone stole a painting of a skull from me. It wasn't even finished. He was a friend of a friend of my roommate (I think) and crashed at a house party we hosted. Even after successfully agreeing to purchase it for the low price of $40 USD (which he agreed to pay the next morning after the party), he slipped off with it in the middle of the night.
So I've experienced first hand how art can help people with something. I have other examples. I've sold a few dozen works in the past 20 years. My favorite reaction so far was an almost running hug, launched at me my CTO at my last job when I presented a very personally themed painting of the "Lucky Cat" to her. And have you seen that one episode of The Office where Michael buys Pam's illustration?
Art makes people feel things, and it helps us with expressions of our feelings, which are sometimes hobbled by words alone, or even sometimes by actions.
These weapon paintings from Destiny might remind some people of violence, but I know for a fact that they will remind people of a great, positive experiences too. I think the one outweighs the other. In fact, I know it, because they remind me of that, because I've had those experiences. With friends, family, teammates and with a huge body of people on social networks and in shared game worlds.
Saliently, it is also worth mentioning that Destiny is an online game that specifically encourages (and sometimes requires) large works of collaboration amongst player, while presenting some of the most complex gaming challenges I have ever experienced- and I've been playing video games for over 25 years.
3. The creative process is necessary for me, and right now, it includes these guns.
For real though, hey everybody? I am going through some shit. My life isn't the hardest one on the planet, it's rather far from that, really, if there was a ranking... But comparison is a thief and I will not reduce my own situation or deny my own experience or emotions. And right now my experiences are challenging me.
Sometimes, during the hardest moments, I kind of wish I had a magic gun or a magic wand or a magic axe that could solve my problems... Like the ones I have in my favorite video game, where I am a totally in control person who wields god-like powers and cannot die.
That "net good" thing above? It includes these pieces being something that I need to do for me, so I'm doing them. Full stop.
I need to test myself as an artist. And importantly, I need to take the ideas in my head out and make them real in the world. I want to make my ideas into real things on paper (in this case, canvas). I need that to happen. Right now, the ideas in my head include stark, painterly renditions of profiles of tools of violence from video games about violence. That's just what it is.
These particular designs are weapons that I like to use in the game. There are qualities that match a gameplay style that I've honed over years. That is only even available thanks to the creative collaborative processes and creative people that spawn them (say that three times fast). There are a dozen books on how and why video games are made and even before I read any of them, I was convinced that games are art, through and through. From the design to the code to the rendering, each piece is a kind of chaotic and perfectly timed dance that makes expression come alive in a way that humans only in our living generations have ever experienced.
Art is special. Video games are art. Video games are incredibly special art.
Finally then: these designs and my renditions of them depict a very special thing. It's derivative, but also a kind of deeply instilled homage to another piece of art that I love. It's art saying, with art: there is appreciation.
I don't mean to be reductive. I don't mean to be dismissive. If you have pain that is born from the end of a gun, I cannot sate you and my work right now is not for you. But please, know at least that there is no malicious intent in my brush strokes, and that there is some good in these specific symbols, and hopefully in my representation of them.