The Appropriate Response

The events of the last two weeks have been overwhelming. What began as a protest in Minneapolis has now spread literally world-wide and shows no sign of lessening. The question for the artist is how to respond to such events (assuming that one is not so traumatized that one cannot act). There have been a number of artistic responses, and each seems valid in its own way.

One could simply post a solid black image on social media or change one’s profile picture to a black image as many have done. As a matter of fact that was what I had thought of doing for this post. It’s simple; it’s elegant. And it’s easy—at least it would have been for me. Then I wouldn’t be sitting here struggling for what to say. And while that is certainly valid for some artists, for me it seem to be a dodge—an easy way to avoid talking about the situation.

One could shut up and listen to the voices of protest. That’s what artists from late night talk show hosts to Instagram star Leslie Jordan did this past week. They turned their microphones and their cameras over to people of color who explained the protests and the reasons from their own points of view. The hosts listened as did their audiences.

Internationally-known graffiti artist Banksy, said that his first response was to shut up and listen as well, but then he decided that “It’s not their problem, it’s mine.” He went on to say the problem was really a white problem that white people need to fix. He also did what he does best. He created art about the situation. It can be seen here along with his full statement, but the three-image Instagram presentation is more powerful.

Other powerful images have quickly appeared on walls all over the world (see here and here) as mural and graffiti artists have memorialized George Floyd and the issues of racial inequality and police brutality.  Perhaps the largest mural was a street-painting commissioned by DC mayor Muriel E. Bowser; it’s so large it can be seen from space.

Some artists, in addition to speaking out, have physically joined the protests. Others have donated to various nonprofits that provide bail relief for protesters. Others have said little and have ostensibly continued with their non-political art-making. And that too is valid.

Yet other artists are quietly absorbing impressions and information and letting it simmer in the cauldron of creativity until they bring forth works that speak to these issues in a more thoughtful way, perhaps in ways that we cannot yet imagine. I am reminded of how the “staunchly apolitical” Jean Anouilh, during the Nazi occupation of France, penned Antigone. Although it presents both sides of the argument over the rejection of authority, most have come to read it as a subversive anti-authoritarian work.

What new art these events may produce is, of course, as yet unknown. Some of it will have to gestate, and that is a good thing; it means that the art that will be made will not be of the shoot-from-the-hip variety, but will be more considered and perhaps speak more powerfully to the issues.

Still, we must beware of the shoulds. There is no “correct” response to recent events. Each of us is an individual artist who can only be concerned with his/her own response and certainly not whether it meets someone else’s criteria. The appropriate response is really an individual decision.

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Date: Sunday, 7. June 2020 23:08
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