Most artists with a political conscience have found themselves alone in their studio or room at some point and wondered, “What good is this doing? I’m here and the world is burning outside.”
Some artists try to kill two birds with one stone and correct the world’s horrors directly through their art. But paintings of Abu Ghraib prisoners are not effective against torture and they don’t stand on their own as art. I’ve come to the conclusion that the distinction between visual art and political activism simply is.
On Friday, I was listening to Democracy Now while drawing. I walked over to the computer screen to watch footage of a young African-American boy in the ‘60s, tears rolling down his face at his brother’s untimely funeral, singing with determination “We shall overcome.”
Today, reading Doris Lessing, I noted these words:
Now, when I start writing, the first thing I ask is, ‘Who is thinking the same thought? Where are the other people like me?’ I don’t believe any more that I have a thought. There is a thought around.
Both elbow me. The only thing artists can hope for with their art is that by making it, by showing it, it overcomes. The spirit of art goes against the downward spiral – or at least attempts to – and that is not insignificant, for the artist personally, for any interested viewer, and as a symbol. And it inevitably belongs to a thrust of our times, no matter how weak that force may now be.