“2. the substance of the land surface; soil: a layer of earth.”

“2. the substance of the land surface; soil: a layer of earth.” – Oxford Dictionary

I”m driving up the road to the house. Jason Aldean is singing Amarillo Sky, another of his eloquent anthems about land and farming. Listening to some of the beautiful moments in the song, i am thinking of my grandfather – then i flash to my conversation of just an hour ago at an art opening where i ran into a local Fort Collins painter who asks what i am up to.

I explain my recent work, about the materials i’m using; describing earth, graphite, acrylic, etc. The painter rather caustically asks, “What do you mean earth?”  I reply “earth, land, soil, from other locations – Rock Springs, Lamy….,” they respond with “Oh, dirt.” And then go on about something related to their work in archaeology (in addition to being a painter), implying that earth was an odd term for me to use.

So there i am feeling that i now want and need to defend the term earth. Not because i am using it in my work – but because as we talk about the word dirt as being what it is i am working with, it feels that they have not been with earth in the same way i have. I explain that calling it dirt when describing the materials in text leaves the audience with a feeling other than what I am portraying – these are landscapes I am talking about the earth – what we are – what we farm – what we watch out of our car windows on long drives through the West.

This is not semantics – this is about loving and respecting land – one person digs in it to look at rock or pick up others people’s bones or housewares – to “uncover a culture” – to do science… guess that’s dirt. The conversation seemed to disrespect the role of earth, land, soil and what it actually is – how it functions – perhaps that is the “vision” of the scientist – making it, the earth, rather unimportant, easily discarded – neutral.

I can’t be neutral about land, earth, soil. It is richly textured – incredible in its variety of color, it whispers centuries of history, feeds us, it is what we are – we are not dirt… my audience is not dirt – dirt is not soil – dirt is that grimy stuff we come across in the city that is a collection of sweat, oil, spit, with dust mixed in it and then people step in it and spread it around – that’s dirt.

Earth. People fight over it and – die over it. They are buried in it or tossed back into it as ashes. The earth is invaded by all sorts of machines, insects, and yes, archaeologists – researchers – geologists – It has an incredible life of its own. It is active and alive.

What it seemed to come down to is that this painter – really just needed something to pick on at the moment and found an excellent fit – what it left me with was an even stronger conviction of continuing to use earth in my work.           

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