Monday, January 23, 2017

Why Your Art Matters

I’m approaching the easel with my broadest brush for this one. Talking about dealing with and overcoming writer’s block is one thing. Talking about the work ethic writing demands? Same situation. I feel adequately prepared, based on my experience and knowledge of my craft, to write about those. How do I come to the same page, same blog space, and tell anyone reading this that your art matters?

I’m no authority on the subject, and I’ve never pretended to be. The best I can do is to relay the broad thoughts I’ve had over this past week (broad thoughts, hence my broad brush opening comment). I’ve got my fingers crossed that this will have become something coherent and meaningful by the time I’m finished.

Your Art Matters - Be Mindful

M. Night Shyamalan’s Split started me down this rabbit hole. I haven’t seen it. I haven’t seen the trailer. I’ve written how I’m not much for movies, and while I did resolve to watch more of them, it’s not something that changes with the flick of a switch. What I have seen is criticism of its use of someone with mental illness as the villain.

I’ve also seen people who counter that art has to be given the ultimate freedom to be whatever it needs to be. It may paint a specific character in a negative light, but that doesn’t mean it’s trying to send a message about everyone who resembles that character. Besides, art is there for its own sake, to entertain, perhaps to make a point; you didn’t buy a ticket to Split to watch a treatise on people with mental illness.

I’m split (pun very much intended) on how to feel. I want my art to be bold, because that’s often when it works the best. I also want it to be cognizant of marginalized people. When art represents more people, it could potentially inspire them to create art of their own, to help give the world this vibrant and varied voice. It’s down to us as creators and partakers to do what we can to increase the amount of art in the world.

I read a similar line of thinking regarding The Birth of a Nation. If the only way we see black Americans depicted is as slaves, what does that say to children who might see that as the only role for someone who looks like them. But at the same time, do we brush off that dark time in America as though it doesn’t still have far-reaching negative impact? As though it’s something this country has solved?

So, I don’t know. I hate the thought of anything being considered off limits for anyone creating art, but I think to be responsible, we have to be aware that what we create will be seen, read, felt by people, and it will have an effect on them. We have to produce material that might be challenging, might be callous, and we have to be mindful of what we’re doing. I don’t have a better solution than that. (Don’t be mad; I told you at the beginning that I didn’t have answers.)

Your Art Matters - Be Bold

News came out a day before the inauguration that the Trump administration had tabbed the National Endowment for the Arts, among a number of similar programs, for cuts to help eliminate wasteful spending. Given that these programs represent a drop in the bucket for the federal budget, it’s clear that the cuts are symbolic.

why your art matters bold mindful
Generic pic is generic, but this is a pretty abstract topic. I did what I could | Flickr
This got me thinking about the place of art in this world, particularly in a country that, if not rapidly changing, is at least bolder with each passing day in showing its true face. It made me think about art as one of the oldest, most far-reaching forms of dissent. It goes for all art, but for the sake of this blog, writing as a form of resistance when people all around us tell us it doesn’t matter.

I’ll be posting this on Monday a week after Martin Luther King Day, and this whole situation has had me thinking of his famous “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” where he wrote scathingly of the lukewarm support from white moderates and the cry to “wait.” It was writing as resistance, yes, but also as a form of criticism and instruction, as eloquent and important as the “I Have a Dream” speech.

Recently I stumbled on an account of the Holocaust from a Jewish survivor. This person wrote that, around them, at least, some Gypsy prisoners had instruments. They played music that the nearby Jewish prisoners could hear, and this person wrote that when the music stopped, they knew the Gypsy prisoners were gone. Writing—creating art, in general—as a way to let people know we’re still here.

This post is heavy. It feels heavy to me, like it’s almost too much for me to evoke these examples, these deep topics, for this post. But history isn’t some ancient relic. We live it every day. Aleppo has been wiped out. America regularly produces reports of police brutality. Writing, and art in general, has always been important in times like these.

Wrap Up

I can’t stress enough that I am a nobody to be talking about this, but I’m gonna keep doing what I do. I hope you will, too. I hope you’ll make good art, and that you’ll work like no one’s watching, but that you’ll also be aware that people are watching. We hear you, we see you, and all of this matters. Your contribution is important, and it will affect someone, even if that person is only you. Act accordingly.

I’ll go through here and proofread, per usual, and then I’ll throw it up on the blog. I hope it all added up, but even if it didn’t, I want it represented as is, just a big glob of thoughts on why we do this art thing. If this post pulled together into something meaningful for you, I hope you’ll show it some social media love. The comments are down below, and you know what they’re for. As always, thanks so much for reading.