I just returned from teaching photography for a week at University of West Bohemia in Plzen, Czech Republic. This is my third year to do so, and it is always enjoyable. It also always challenges my thinking, seeing and understanding of the world and myself.
During the stay, I enjoyed a presentation by Richard Drury titled Art in the Shifting Sands of Czech Public Space. It was fascinating, as it charted art in public space over the years that included Russian rule, Communist transition, Communist crackdown/normalization, democratic changes and more. Enlightening and scary, entertaining and challenging, he provided interesting perspectives on art, government, artists and the Czech culture. Then he said that because of the conditions of the area for decades, if not centuries, time matters less to Czechs than space, and the most important space to them is personal space, and the most important personal space is mental space. Through all the conflicts and changes, suppression and repression, the Czechs have come to protect and preserve their freedom of thought and ideas.
I don’t believe it is fair or appropriate for this foreigner to take one man’s statement as the sacred truth about a culture that he has studied and lived in, but did not originate from. I have asked a few friends there what their thoughts are regarding Drury’s premise. Whether his belief is actually fact for a culture and a people is somewhat moot to the point of this column though. The point is that we must protect and preserve our freedom of personal thought and ideas. It is from this that our other freedoms can emanate: expression, religion, etc. It is from this that our daily freedoms can survive the suppression and repression that comes in other forms: roles, relationships, abuse, guilt, fear and so on. Our thoughts are the building blocks of our creativity, self-awareness, self-respect, growth, change, and future.
There are numerous threats, real and imagined, to our thinking. And to our way of thinking. The safety of our own mental space where we think, imagine, contemplate, ruminate, wonder and examine is critical to all of us, yet too often we sacrifice it to forces, real and imagined.