Keep making art: an artist’s manifesto for troubled times.
I normally write two blog posts a week, but I just couldn’t this week. The US elections got me seriously strung out. The day after hit me like a hangover, and I hadn’t even been drinking. I went to bed early with a sinking heart, tried to sleep for over an hour, and woke up at 3:30am knowing without even looking that the world had direly shifted.
For a few minutes, as I thought about what I needed to do next, what I could do next, I felt acute despair, and I really just wanted to, you know, clock out for a while. I could just cancel all of my remaining shows for this tour, I thought, and get out of the States as soon as possible, hunker down in Montreal for a month before catching my plane to the UK. I wrestled with the weight of this choice, knowing that audiences were going to be a tough sell, and wouldn’t it look a little, I don’t know, callous to put on dirty storytelling shows in the middle of this?
Underneath that was the tiny little shame of an artist: what good is art at a time like this? Especially art about sex? Who cares? This is a luxury, all of this swanning about around sex stuff. The apocalypse is upon us! No one has time for a dirty storytelling open mic, no one has time for silliness. What is theatre but self-indulgence?
I think most performers, most artists of all stripes, feel this at some point or another, this internalized illegitimacy. Mine is not real art. Real art can start revolutions! My art just gets people squirming in the back rooms of bars and maybe feeling a little horny afterward.
Fortunately, I recognize this barely breathed thought for what it is: the internal critic, the voice that has and will take the same tone with any art I try to create. It’s the internalized skeptic: art doesn’t change anything, never mind sex art, never mind hosting open mics. This is all helped along by my activist side, which learned and still believes that the only real activism is on the front line, chaining oneself to the gates of the nuclear power plant and blocking freeways, or at the very least going to rallies and being loud. That’s the stuff I should be focusing on that, my activist mind keeps saying. That is the only way to effect real change.
But this is not true, I was reminded today. Change can come from many directions. Art can change things. In addition to bringing the message—whatever message, I know what mine tends to be, but there are many others—doing art, if that’s what we need to do, contributes to a world in which we are all doing the thing that feeds our soul. That can’t be the only thing—there are petitions and signs and money to be donated—but in a world that feels soulless, it needs to be top priority to put our souls back out harder than ever.
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