I think we can all agree that the times we are living in – really, for the past 6 years now – are traumatic. From polarization in politics, to the pandemic, to the increasing deleterious effects of climate change, and now to the very real threat of global war, we have the misfortune to be experiencing a unique set of stressors.
It’s hard to be creative when you wake up at 3 AM with the thought that the human race might realistically be facing extinction.
I believe that it is the role of the artist to crack open the barriers that create conflict. In order to get through these times we need to reinterpret them and express what is happening through a different lens, one that is accessible, one that may mirror events but with a flipped reflection.
To see a thing true, sometimes we need to see that thing from another direction.
Certain books have become classics precisely because they satirized or exaggerated the prevailing fears of the time: Fahrenheit 451 (book banning/burning); 1984 (brainwashing); Animal Farm (corruption in politics). Ironically, those books have themselves been subject repeatedly to book bans.
Other books have revealed the true horrors of war or of racial injustice (The Diary of Anne Frank; The Hate U Give – both also subject to book bans.)
Regardless of the controversy these books have engendered, they are much needed reflections of the terrible things, as well as the beautiful things, we humans can do to one another. They don’t preach, but show the reader how hatred, prejudice, and the lust for power all corrupt, while acceptance, openness, and knowledge elevate.
To Be an Artist
I believe that to be an artist is, at some level, to assume the responsibility of addressing the expressions of our human nature, bad and good. That by revealing both our beauty and our foibles we are honestly representing our need to listen to our “better angels”.
Try thinking about your work this way:
- Metaphor. Removing the “thing” you want to say from direct expression can make it more accessible, especially to younger readers. (Animal Farm; Charlotte’s Web)
- History. Historical perspectives shed light on today’s actions. (Between Shades of Gray; The Diary of Anne Frank)
- Fantasy/science fiction/spec fiction. Fantasies can be relevant mirrors, albeit distorted. And science fiction and speculative fiction have long been the home for representation of human behavior, good and bad. (Lord of the Rings; The Broken Earth Series; Station Eleven)
Getting through traumatic times, for the artist, is a challenge. But if we think of ways to express the emotions that drive humans in ways both abhorrent and heroic we are not only shining a bright light into darkness, we are opening our own hearts to that light as well.