Things that Being an Artist Has Taught Me about Changing the World: random installment 3

Health Dept


10) Dangerous dreams. The African anti-colonial leader Amilcar Cabral described culture as “the collective personality of a people.” The arts, then, are its collective dreamlife. If there are issues, experiences or unresolved questions in life you wish to avoid, they will be waiting for you when you close your eyes at night. When there are issues a society wishes to avoid, they will build in pressure until the arts give them outlet. The histories of dictatorships are densely populated with imprisoned poets.

11) We are a storied species. We move each day through an atmosphere thick with narratives. They dictate how we react to different people, how we interpret what experiences we encounter and even what sensory information is admitted and what is filtered out. Narratives that are reflected back at us through advertising, religious symbols, media punditry or popular culture are more likely to become part of our internal landscapes – the landscapes we live in. Children that grow up where the towns and streets are named for conquerors will understand themselves differently from those who live where they are named for the leaders of slave rebellions, children’s advocates and the breakers of social barriers. To be an artist is to play a part in the complex interplay of narratives.

12) Art is from the root. I have at times been approached by people who, educated in art schools, ask me how to integrate their social/political outlook into their art. This is difficult for me to answer since I never had to do it. Art comes from our roots, deep in the subconscious soil. If you want your art to reflect any particular narratives or viewpoints or understandings (without seeming contrived) then you must absorb them through your roots. This means that your life is your real art form. How you design and direct it, what you experience – by intent or by chance – will determine how deep and in what direction your roots will grow.  That, in turn, will determine for you what art can emerge.

13) Art and experience. The art we create is our way of processing and expressing how we experience the world. This gives it a medicinal quality in that art reminds us to experience that world, to notice its shapes and sounds and notice the relationship of its external rhythms with our internal ones. Because we are all made from the same clay and breathe from the same air, we recognize something of ourselves in the art created by others. Even though my dreams are different from yours the fact that your art speaks in dream language at all encourages me to listen to my own.

Originally posted to Opine Season on August 7, 2013 

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