I am haunted in this holiday season by the opening lines of Charles Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities, his novel about a society 250 years ago coming apart in its seemingly irreconcilable divisions. Could it be these lines define where we have come to find ourselves today?
“It was the best of times,
it was the worst of times,
in the age of wisdom,
it was the age of foolishness,
it was the epoch of belief,
it was the epoch of incredulity,
it was the season of Light,
it was the season of Darkness,
it was the spring of hope,
it was the winter of despair…”
ur own epoch is one of the technological miracle of instant person-to-person worldwide connection through the Internet, but one in which civilian prisoners-of-civil-war are being cruelly beheaded in the desert sands. We are left to wonder just how much hope we realistically should have in ever being able, as singular individuals, to impact the world, to change it in any way for the positive. It seems that for every new digital wonder invented, there is a corresponding return to ancient horrors. Will the fires of irrational hatreds ever be put out? Will we ever feel safe as world citizens to travel freely and find new friends in our own one planetary home?
Artists and advocates for the arts occupy a unique position in society. What we have in the arts is a special way of expressing what we see with our eyes and feel in our hearts as we live through the usually hardscrabble situations in our own lives. As artists, makers and appreciators, we have a specific dedication to finding what is true as an answer or not as a question. We have only the truth as we know it, to best express as we can through our particular art-form as look we for it. Nothing more and nothing less.
We are not soldiers for enforcing the codes of our rulers. We are not politicians making special pleadings for one group’s benefit at another group’s expense. We are not preaching for or against any of it. But we persevere in our courage to challenge our intellects and muster every possible ounce of our belief in the power and potential of art to transform ourselves and the people around us.
n this particularly divisive holiday season, with demonstrations every night in so many of our cities around the world, with militias and armies engaged in savage conflict, with suppression and repression of thought, ideas, expression and culture, and with the widening gaping chasm between the rich and the poor, I encourage all artists to re-commit yourselves to doing what only you can do best: observe the truth and express it through your art. Represent in your art the bad things that are facts of our lives –and represent your best visions of a future without these horrors and injustices. Use the special lens that is your artist’s eye to envision a syncretic world society finally coming together, to replace the currently fragmenting one we are suffering. This is the special charge I put to all artists and arts advocates who hear this call.
And when we each individually give ourselves over to this great project, we will each of us become part of a mighty force for what is true and good. In this re-dedication we will find each other, and support each other, as artists. We will not be alone, railing against the maelstrom. We will be part of one mighty, beautiful and loving force for peace in our world.
Let the cynics snark on and on. I prefer to silently say a simple prayer for myself and interlocutors of so little faith, one that I borrowed and re-crafted from a sainted martyr in our artists’ holy cause…
As we note the murder of four cartoon artists and 8 others in Paris, we are reminded that the world is not yet ready to “live as one.” We have a lot of work and dedication ahead of us.
— Be part of the conversation & view the trubute gallery —
Questions for The Reader
Do you agree with this statement?: As an artist, I possess special, perhaps even magical powers that can transform people and situations for the better.
Do you agree with this statement?: As an artist, I possess no special ability to alter hearts and minds. Art is how I express myself and it is also a commodity to sell for my own subsistence. Nothing more.
Do you believe in the power of the arts to transform hearts, minds and history? How great a role has art had in ending wars? In empowering women’s liberation and equality worldwide? In promoting and energizing civil rights movements?
How important do you think artists were in bringing down the Berlin Wall?
Who you think changes more hearts and minds? Politicians, scholars and academics, scientists or artists?