Last summer I went to Lake Erie to vacation with my family. While there my husband and I visited the Ashtabula Arts Center. The July exhibit was A to Z by Lisa Burroughs-Betras. The artist created letters by using natural material and photographing them. I’ve seen something similar done with architectural images at a craft fair. Some of Ms. Burroughs-Betras images were striking but mostly my husband and I were not impressed.
As we drove back to our cottage I read the blurb in the arts center’s newsletter about what we had just seen. Ms. Burroughs-Betras explained how she created the images and how it became a meditative process. Since I make beaded chaplets and crochet I understand how the artistic process can be a form of meditation and prayer. However, the prayer beads I design and assemble are merely meditation aids and do not have the power of the divine. Unfortunately Ms. Burroughs-Betras attempted to infuse a deeper meaning into her work than it merited. She stated each letter was “a powerful symbol.” A powerful symbol of what, I wondered. Ms. Burroughs-Betras further said she resisted thinking of her art in conceptual terms but has some ideas about “the original mystery of symbols, letters and words as magical.” Magical? Isn’t she confusing the symbol with what it symbolizes? She further said ancient peoples imbued the symbol with the power the object represented and people connected to the symbol in a sacred way. I am reminded how the Israelites made the golden calf and worshiped it as if it was a god. No matter how much the Israelites wanted and believed in it the golden calf did not have and never would have divine powers. If Ms. Burroughs-Betras hungers for deeper meaning as so many people do today, I would urge her to focus on her relationship with God.
Letters have no inherent meaning. Humankind has decided what sound each letter represents and how to combine letters into words that have meaning. Words may express sacred ideas but are not in themselves sacred. There is no real meaning to Ms. Burroughs-Betras photos. They are simply pictures that demonstrate her ability to manipulate light and form. A discussion of the artistic process would have been more interesting.