When things are so out of balance, what happens to creativity? And what is the role of the artist?
On the Edge of Nowhere
Nothing like this pandemic has happened in our lifetime. In our country, 9-11 is the closest we can come to such social upheaval, or New Orleans after Katrina in the way this pandemic is affecting people of color. We’d all have to go back to World War 2 to feel it – but we’re on the edge of losing that generation. The Depression, the 1918 flu pandemic – ancient history. And in those past events we were able to come together, grieve together, try to fix it together, hold one another close, and then get back to work – together.
The lucky ones among us can sit tight. We have enough resources tucked away. We live in places with outdoor spaces that allow for relative freedom. We live in single-family homes. We can look at this stretch of time as time to create – no meetings, no appointments, no social engagements, no random shopping to interrupt the flow. Why, we can bake bread or cookies, and still get that novel written! Write a short story! Learn to draw! Play the guitar that’s been gathering dust forever!
More importantly, there’s a bigger issue lying in wait, and if we don’t see it yet, we will.
Art and Social Justice
The worst thing about this pandemic is that it has forced us into our own corners, even more than we’ve been cornered over the past four years. It will create a huge economic disparity that will drown the world.
People with few resources can’t afford to be out of work. Social distancing in a crowded apartment complex filled with multi-generational families is a joke. The health care system that has denied a segment of the population proper care is over-burdened by those who’ve been left out.
But working right now is dangerous, so how do people choose? Do I go to work for Instacart or Amazon and bring in enough money to feed my hungry family, or do I go to work and bring home death?
This is where the artist – especially those of us who have the luxury – can do something. Anything. We need to become socially conscious. We need to look up from the bread bowl and get angry. Really, deeply, in-our-bones angry.
And then we need to translate that anger into art.
Artists need to make art that will make people think – think about these disparities, think about the astonishing lack of governance from our national leaders, think about this economic division that has been a long time coming and we haven’t fixed it. We need to make art that will make people feel – feel empathy, feel guilt, feel motivation.
We need to make art that will shake the very ground on which we stand.
But to do that, artists need to know how to make people think. We need to understand how to make people feel. Inciting emotion is a subtle art, built on a bridge between artist and audience. For the writer, creating deep emotion on the page that is a call to action is a carefully-thought out process of building resonance with characters who express those emotions, and story lines that raise questions. Creating this kind of art is not a dictate but a dance. Purpose-driven art allows the audience in, lets it question and self-examine and choose.
Let’s make that kind of art.
We also will need – desperately – to support artists who come from those communities that suffer from economic disparities, because emerging from this time, with the world in tatters, it will be hard for underrepresented artists to gain footing.
The muse shies away from clamor and confusion, but she is battle-ready and waiting for the artist who feels purpose.
Please take care of yourself, and, when you’re ready, let’s get to work.
And here’s your next two chapters of ARK, my sci-fi young adult novel.