Editor’s Note: the original version of this article was first posted on the C2C in 2010.
It used to be that our greatest artists told the story of our times as they happened. The same was true of authors. There was Fitzgerald for the Roaring Twenties, Hemingway for The Great Depression, Hansberry and Baldwin for the pre-Civil Rights era.
It seemed like artists, until very recently, understood their responsibility to humanity more than just to their wallets. They knew that they were the observers, the recorders. Artists are the ones who point out the problem, so that the activists, policy makers, leaders, and everyday citizens can call everyone to action. Artists don’t set the mood, they translate it, so that we understand what we are going through as we are going through it.
It’s like artists are part of humanity’s digestive system. Artists are needed to break down the big, heavy problems into little pieces of nutrition that are helpful to humanity, that help guide us, and give us hope. If writers and other artists don’t do their job of digesting life’s big problems for us, then you’re talking about some major global constipation (forgive the grotesque analogy),but what that could translate into is major confusion, despair and loss of hope.
In the past, there wasn’t just talk about what was going on, artists knew that their responsibility was also to give hope and to share wisdom. Artists doled out wisdom! Deep, meaningful lyrics, prose and poetry. For instance, I’ve heard Buffalo Springfield’s For What Its Worth song all my life, but not until some months ago did I realize how incredible powerful, deep and poetic it was!
It’s as if today’s “artists” are stuck in the opulent 90’s era, and can’t seem to churn out anything timely. And there really aren’t anymore excuses why they shouldn’t. In our current age, you have an unpopular war, a recession that seems to be crawling achingly toward recovery, a major civil rights movement gaining momentum, an earth that’s acting funky, and re-emerging racial tensions that are hotter than a blacksmith’s poker.
We’re living in the 60’s on STEROIDS! What’s up artists? You’re kind of lagging. No wonder people aren’t really caring about art these days and are willing to cut it from school systems. They’ve forgotten how powerful art could be. Why? Because artists aren’t willing to exert their power anymore, nor, I would argue are they taking up the great responsibility conferred upon them to help people understand the mood, or at least tell people, simply:
“There’s something happening here… what it is isn’t exactly clear…”
My personal goal as an artist is to write work that lives within our times. Not necessarily that politics serve as the main feature, but that our current climate at least serves as a backdrop. My end goal is to give readers hope, strength and tools to get through a challenging age like this one. It’s not about whether I’ll succeed at this goal, it’s about whether I am trying to succeed. Because that’s my role as an artist in the world. If I don’t do it, no one will. And who really wants to live without a stomach?
Do you FEEL me?
In the words of Buffalo Springfield:
“There’s bad lines being drawn, / and nobody’s right if everybody’s wrong… / Paranoia strikes deep, / into your life it will creep. / It starts when you’re always afraid. / Step out of line, the man comes / and takes you a-way. / Stop, now! What’s that sound? / Everybody look what’s going down!”
much love & peace,
What do you think has led to the demise of the “timely” artist? And if he or she does exist, then why hasn’t the “timely” artist gained more mainstream exposure?
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