And so another tax year has come and gone and luckily I earned less than the required minimum to actually pay income tax! Don’t worry, this is not another “poor artist” rant, though I will briefly tell you that my previous blog “We Can’t Eat Elation” received the highest number of hits I have ever seen on my website – it evidently struck a chord with many people (particularly with artists of course). In any case, thanks for passing it around and spreading the word – I think that at the very least it got people thinking and talking about the value of the artist and their art.
So this month I’d like to open up a discussion on Art & Activism, or “Artivism” (I would like to say I coined this term but a quick search on google would deny me this claim to fame and so I will settle for “I thought it up all by myself!”). Those of you who are familiar with my work would probably agree that activism is pretty important to me but I do believe there is a line that must be toed between sharing ones views and outright preaching, though this is a line I find is often blurred because where I may take something to be absolute truth, others might not. I believe there is also a danger of alienating an audience with beliefs they might find overwhelming, so I believe a balance must be struck between infusing work with personal political beliefs, international truths and calls to action.
As I am passionate about being a humanitarian, sharing humanities stories and information as a way of increasing collective power to motivate dissent, I work hard at infusing my shows and performances with some sort of message. That I make this statement at all would have some people crying out “left wing extremist hippy!” and, well, since the centre has moved so far to the right, there might be some truth in that tag.
Which leads me to an article I read recently. A friend of mine posted this article on my Facebook wall and I loved every sentence and every sentiment. Essentially Chris Hedges believes it is the role of artists to commentate on, challenge and rebel against the establishment. I have to say, I agree with him whole heartedly. Currently, we live in a system that rewards greed, frowns upon empathy and demands mass consumption. We exist to work in order to buy and this is what our frail economy relies on. Those of us who don’t contribute in the same manner are seen as worthless, lazy, strange or downright threatening to other peoples ways of life – which, by the by is just crazy talk.
I used to think, that if I tried to live my life a certain way, it would be enough. Enough for what? Enough to at least minimise my contribution to the madness that humanity has become (always has been?) that I could try to evolve as an individual and this would somehow make the world a better place. I no longer believe this. Now, I believe it is the duty of the artist to actively educate, persuade and stimulate dialogue that spreads truth and seeks justice. Even with different absolute truths, there must be some truths that hold for all of humanity – the right to safety, the right to water, the right to shelter, the right to food, the right to compassion, the right to empathy – essentially, the right for all of humanity to exist in the same way the majority in western countries do. (“WHAT?? That’s a wild idea! What are you? A socialist or something? That shit doesn’t work – look at Cuba! They couldn’t get it right! You’d all end up smoking weed, getting drunk. Nothing would get done! Your Utopia can’t ever eventuate!”)
Whilst parts of Europe cry out for help from the burden of the Global Financial Crisis, Central, East and West Africa have descended into full blown famine once again and other parts of the world are struggling under the weight of their own economic situations, it’s hard to fathom that there are more millionaires and billionaires than ever before. The disparity between rich and poor has become so extreme that it now exceeds those during the 16th century between landlords and peasants. Should I remain silent?
Australia has become nothing more than a large quarry from which to scrape carbon producing energy, most of that money remaining in the grubby paws of two extremely wealthy and greedy individuals. Should my work not reflect this?
More refugees are fleeing wars created by nations intent on pillaging what is not theirs, and we turn them away at our borders (or worse, allow them to drown). What is my obligation as an artist?
I will not continue to list the absolutely depressing state the world is currently in, but I will say this: I feel eternally lucky and guilty that I was born in a nation of plenty. I feel eternally ashamed by the conduct of my government and the governments of other countries and will openly state they do nothing in my name – this thing they call democracy is a sham (more money = more votes). Lastly, the fact that greed is sanctified by law when it comes to corporations will ultimately be what leads us down the path of disaster – and revolution.
I know these are some pretty big statements to be making, and I’ve thought long and hard about what the role of artists (and “Artivism”) is and so I’m making this blog a call to arms for all artists and supporters of the arts to help me write the “Artivism” manifesto. What do you believe the obligation of artists to be? No matter their medium, in this day and age where the voice of the little people is no longer heard (or in worse swayed with misinformation) what philosophy or ethos do you think the artist should live and practice by? Send me your suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org or list them here as comments and come August I will propose this collective manifesto as something we artists may collectively choose to live by.
Peace & Respect,