As we begin a New Year, here is the editorial I printed in the latest Arts Express Magazine talking about how art may help in the coming year.
A year ago, we had hoped that the worst days of the COVID pandemic were on the wane, and that the Democrats would offer perhaps an eyedropperful more in the way of healthcare and economic help. But even with our low expectations, the new regime managed to disappoint still further, and we had yet another year of deaths and hardships.
In the midst of this, it’s worth asking what is the role of art, both the performing arts and the visual arts in all this? How can they help us in our circumstances?
As we see it, on the most rudimentary political level, art can teach us; it can tell us stories of resistance, struggles for equality and justice, rising up against oppressors, uncover unknown stories that might prompt us to action. Art can also provide us with courage and inspiration, as when we sing in unison with our comrades, or cheer a protagonist in a film. These are important aspects of art, but we want to advocate, too, for some of the less acknowledged qualities of art, equally important, as opposed to the more overtly political.
The very making of art means that an artist is a human who observes the world, interprets it, and responds to it. The artist is an active agent in making the world rather than just accepting it. The act of sharing is important too; the artist says: the world looks this way to me, how about you?—even if we’re just talking about a bowl of fruit. We can only understand this life by checking with others what their experience is, and sharing our own.
Crucially, though, in art we use our imaginations to tell the stories of others. In that act of imagination, artists explore the experiences of others, try on new roles for themselves. Although we only present a tiny slice of what we are and can be in our “real lives,” we begin to understand that each one of us contain multitudes. The real freedom artists allow themselves in creation is a wake-up call to the rest of us that most of the time we are walking around half-blind: blind to the possibilities of the world around us and blind to the possibilities within ourselves as human beings. That realization alone brings hope–and battles despair–as we try to live our fullest lives. We wish you all a happy and healthy year full of possibilities.
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