As troubled as this world is and has always been, we owe a huge debt to those artists who have the ability and the courage to give voice and form to our collective conscience, pulling it back into the light in times of darkness. It is no small service that they remind us of our shared humanity during those periods when that treasured quality appears misplaced.
This inspiring Huffington Post article, “What It Means To Be An Artist In The Time of Trump”, published soon after the election, asks 21 artists how they envision their creative role for the next four years and what advice they would offer to other makers. Their responses speak to both a common distress: “pain, anger, sadness and fear” as well as the optimistic power of “hope, unity, compassion, motivation, and strength”. Above all, they acknowledge the importance of not remaining silent. Read what they have to say, it will make you proud to be part of their tribe.
In 2015, Toni Morrison wrote the following in an essay for The Nation, entitled “No Place for Self-Pity, No Room for Fear”:
“This is precisely the time when artists go to work. There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilizations heal.
I know the world is bruised and bleeding, and though it is important not to ignore its pain, it is also critical to refuse to succumb to its malevolence. Like failure, chaos contains information that can lead to knowledge – even wisdom. Like art.”
I am not a political artist, but this past month I’ve found a small sense of solace in making the above piece to fulfill the prompt “fantasy” for the Journal Project, the group I’ve participated in over the past year. Believe me, I am not deluded enough to think the president-elect will show any remorse for his xenophobic, misogynistic, anti-environmental, self-centered, self-serving, and frankly hateful rhetoric and actions. (In acknowledgement of that fact, in addition to referencing America’s red, white & blue, the dyed color, pattern, and bleed are a subtle nod to hell freezing over.) I am, however, grateful for Michelle Obama’s graceful, grown-up response “when they go low, we go high” as a reminder that decorum and measured intelligence still hold sway and will always have champions.
In the tempestuous days ahead, we can look to artists to challenge us and provide prospective, giving voice to our shared humanity as they always have, while not letting us off the hook. A mere apology is by no means the answer, but wouldn’t it be a nice starting point?