I believe in the arts.
I was recently accused of being a hopeless romantic idealist wannabe boho artiste, in so many words. But what else can I do now besides plead guilty and hope that someone bails me out so that I may return to my DIY cardboard box?
Such an accusation does not surprise me. I have been heavily influenced by the arts in my life—don’t let the stick figure drawings deceive you. New Orleans was and still is an eclectic arts Mecca. Growing up, there was no end to the amount of theatre, music, dance, and visual arts opportunities available. I tried them all, and as a pianist, I was able to foster an even closer relationship with the arts…
…But since those days, times have changed; my idealism is being put to the test and the view from my cardboard box has become decidedly more morose.
Because now, this is what I see:
I see my home pummeled by natural disaster and unnatural indifference from those in positions of power.
I see our sense of safety and optimism being shot in the head repeatedly with unlicensed weapons while at the same time, I see our sense of loss and fury numbed by the constant news updates with body counts, a chorus of “the worst violence yet.”
I see myself as a member of a beautiful world, but also of a society which seems to have tied its shoelaces together in a tangle and, while taking a step forward, is now plummeting through the air.
So now, I see it as necessary that I confront the inevitable questions: what is the purpose of all this art; how can I reconcile my love for art with the uglier realities of life, and my idealism with realistic means? Nothing exists in a vacuum.
This is what I am exploring, and so far, this is what I believe:
I never really think of our lives as doomed and tragic and strangled by red tape and wiretaps, our futures stuffed under a bag, stripped of dignity, and then photographed for all to see. I’d hate to think of our collective sorrow as the common thread between humanity, our fears and sadness as all that are between us in an ever divided world.
I believe that our tenacity for survival, rejuvenation, and creation is the shared source of our existence, and that throughout all of the countries and cultures, now and in history, the arts have always been the culmination and manifestation of our capacity for beauty and truth.
I believe that the arts reveal to us an alternative to this obsession with destruction. We destroy to make democracy. We destroy to make way for our gods. But the arts exist through the imagination, through the amalgamation rather than annihilation of what is. It is growth based on creation.
In all of its forms, the arts are the freedom of self-expression, the freedom to believe in what you will, the freedom to communicate, and even the freedom to repudiate it all when the performance is done. In this manner, the arts are completely married to the mission of social justice.
The message doesn’t always have to be overt, and it will not always move us in the same way. But from a Chopin nocturne to the Chorus Repertory Theatre sharing the struggles of Manipur for independence, from Dance Brazil to Sweet Honey in the Rock with their civil rights activism, the arts can shake us from lethargy and commune us with kindred spirits from places and even time periods distant from all that is immediately familiar to us, even when we may not understand it completely.
I believe so passionately that the arts is an important medium in changing how we choose to improve the world—not through warfare and punditry, demagoguery and cynicism, but communication, collaboration, creativity, and heart. The view is looking better already.
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