What Art Means to New Orleans

By Ta’Niyah Williams

In New Orleans there’s a lot of culture. Whether it’s the food, the music, the art, the people, you name it. When people think about New Orleans they think of the food, Mardi Gras, and the way the popular city is built. But people don’t think about the art when they first think about New Orleans. The art is just as important as the other things that make New Orleans, New Orleans.

Just like any other creative expression, artists use art to express themselves. Art can be an escape from reality for some, while for others it can bring them happiness in their daily lives. Since New Orleans is a place with a lot of culture, art portrays that culture. The good and the bad. Streetcars, seafood, beignets, bands, the people are just a few things artists show through their art. Art is special in its own way, but New Orleans art is different. It brings the city out. Shows that New Orleans still has what makes it New Orleans. No matter what happens.

One of our native New Orleanians artists who has received national recognition, Terrance Osborne agreed on me interviewing him. He answered my questions with so much information and really gave fulfilling answers.

I asked him what was his inspiration for art and what or who got him into art in the first place? He responded by saying that his mother and other brother did art as a hobby. His mother drew beautiful drawings, gardens for example. While his brother was more into masculine drawings which were race cars. His family was his inspiration at home, but at school two twins that were students were always drawing and he took that to draw at school and show his talent. At school he was known as “The boy who can draw”. The person who inspired him the most was the artist, Richard C. Thomas the internationally-acclaimed New Orleans artist who created a distinctive style of locally-inspired, Afrocentric artwork which is called “Visual Jazz”. He went to his art gallery and saw his colorful art pieces and Thomas’ style went into his style. And Osborne art incorporates many colors to showcase New Orleans’ culture.

When it comes to seeing himself in his art and how his New Orleans’ culture goes into his art he stated, “I create culture. Not mimic the culture because whatever I produce is New Orleans’ culture. So, I see myself in my art naturally because I was born in New Orleans.” Osborne meant that he sees himself in his art because his art is New Orleans’ culture, so he always sees himself since he was born and raised in the city where his art is inspired from.

One of the questions that I asked Terrance was what three words will you describe your art and why? And his response was “Feel Good Art. I would say feel good art When I start doing my art I put myself into a good mood. And if I’m not in a great mood by doing art I fall into a good mood. So, I love when people feel the energy and feel happy when they see my art. When they do that, that gives me The energy back and that keeps me creating the art that I make. So I will say feel good art.” Osborne’s next answer ties into this answer to this question which was what do you want people to know about your art? What do you want people to see when they see your art? His response was that he doesn’t have an interest in that. Meaning that he wants people to see his art the way they see it. He chose his art to be happy and bright because he wants to give people positivity through his art. If someone doesn’t see his art the way he wants it to be that’s fine because that’s for them to see however they see his art at that moment.

I asked Terrance my most important question which was how do you want to expand New Orleans and it’s culture with your art? And he answered, “I’m a culture producer. People come to me because they want to show New Orleans and appeal to New Orleans itself. I take their product and make it New Orleans. I always want to get on a larger stage because I’m promoting New Orleans with my art.” With his art he shows New Orleans and its liveliness and always wants to have that opportunity to be able to have a big platform where everyone knows New Orleans and what it is about. And mind you he shows New Orleans through art. A creative expression. Everyone isn’t into art but when they see his collaboration with Coke-A-Cola for example, people will drink their coke, see the signs, the ads, the bottles themselves and say, “Wow that looks so nice. It looks lively and free spirited. Wonder what that is.” Meaning they will be interested in the art and the artists behind it. Which is Terrance and then they will see what Terrance is all about which is representing his home city.

During this time, we are in a pandemic, so I had to ask him how has COVID impacted his art/career. He stated, “I’m lucky enough to still be able to do art. I opened my gallery a few years back but before then I was doing my art in my studio at home. So, I’m lucky enough to do my art in the comfort of my own home. When it comes to my art, I made a piece called Frontline which is a lady making a muscle which was to show what frontline workers do and that they work hard. But I do have compassion for artists who don’t have that because some galleries have shut down but with artists, we create what’s going on during that time. It’s like stories in a way. But we record what goes on with our art.”

And lastly, I asked Terrance what he wants his legacy to be. He said, “I want my art to be in the books. Where people study my art and use it again and again and again. That idea is what I want to contribute to the world and that’s timeless.” I found that answer interesting because he didn’t say a surface level answer. He wants his art to be history. Literal history where people read about him, what his art is about, and for people to take that in and use it so they can be good at art. So future people reading about him can know that you can make it to anywhere where you want to be. It makes you question what is art? What is art to you? What does it do for you? What do you want people to get from looking and interpreting your art? What does art mean to your city? How does art make your city? By wanting that type of legacy, it makes me have all those questions and more. No matter what type of art it is whether it’s visual arts, music, performing art such as dancing, or movie directing, whatever it may be, what is it to you? That’s the important thing. What does it do for you? Art means that much to me. And I know that Art means so much to New Orleans. With artists like Terrance showing New Orleans, it shows people who don’t know anything about us and our culture that we know how to have fun. We have great celebrations. Talented people. Nice people. Amazing food. And great things you can come see and experience nowhere else but New Orleans.

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