I’ve been thinking a lot lately—as I’m sure we all have—about how to be productive and effective in this moment and about our capacity and function as artists. As I’ve gotten older, two commandments have been made clear to me that I make no more mistake in thinking are anything less than absolute and indisputable: do not underestimate human resilience—especially in people of color—and do not underestimate the value in art as agency and kinetic energy.
We just experienced an overwhelming resistance toward a radically changing culture that a population of Americans felt excluded from. The government was (liberal) inaccessible; big media was (liberal) inaccessible; academia was (liberal) (elitist) inaccessible, and I think this is a teachable moment if we think about our own struggles for access as artists, people of color, queerfolk, etc. An artwork’s power is in its accessibility; its ability to communicate at an interpersonal and cultural level where legislation, elitists and politics neglect. When we think about revolution, if total attention is given to government buildings and officials, lawmaking, etc., the day to day work that must be done is overlooked. So who’s gonna do the interpersonal work? Who’s gonna work at a cultural level? Who influences culture?: the answer to all three questions is the same.
The standard measure of success for an artist isn’t in artmaking, it’s in reach, in visibility. I’ve applied this to thinking about ways progressive thought may have failed in this election, and what to do about it. Since I got to Providence I’ve thought about what big, blue city I’m moving to when I leave. East Coast, West Coast or abroad because that’s where I feel like I’ll be most welcome and the audience will be the most receptive. But what could work done on the coasts do inward? What could my work do for an unreceptive audience? What if I brought work to the South, or the West? Now that so much of the information we receive has been curated to our tastes and politics thanks to social media; what’s the value in unwelcome information? High, I think. How else do we learn? I was misled by what looked like an abundance in information. “With all this information out here how could anyone possibly be ignorant?” My mistake was thinking information would do the work of discourse.
Who else but us makes the space for discourse?