"Let life enchant you again." - Fernando Gros
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Blog // Artistry
November 10, 2016

We Need Art

The USA has elected a dangerously unqualified fool as leader of the free world. We will have to consider how to respond. And we will need art to do so.

Shock is too weak a word to describe the way I felt yesterday watching the news from the US elections.  It wasn’t so much like an earthquake as like the feeling that comes after, the unnerving sense everything that was once solid has become strangely liquid and unstable.

I opened up about some my feelings online. One random person I don’t know suggested non-USAmericans don’t really have skin in the game when it comes to these elections, suggesting our responses are only “emotional.” Others chimed in to agree.

What bullshit!

On Tuesday, I came home to find the glossy, very impressive brochure from New York’s School of Visual Arts on our kitchen bench. The admissions people had visited my daughter’s school at lunchtime that day and she came home keen to add SVA to the list of places (almost all in the US) where she might go after finishing High School.

But please, tell me how again how I don’t have skin in the game.

Growing up I watched what happened to the country of my birth, Chile and to the changes in the country of my childhood, Australia. It was impossible to doubt the way US policy shaped & configured our lives across the Pacific in those dying days of the cold war.  

But apparently, I have no skin in the game.

What drew me into academia was a passion for a distinctly American form of philosophy, a set of ideas about religious freedom and individual conscience that had roots in the enlightenment, but were uniquely born on the shores of New England. Since returning to creative work I have drawn heavily and freely on the insights and inspiration of US creative industries, from my Berklee College education to the scores of (mostly) US learning and technological resources I wrote about in my book

To be honest I don’t even care to attack the whole misguided “skin in the game” argument any further, to give any more time to random online hecklers and trolls.

We all live in the shadow of the USA and it’s foreign policy whether we want to or not. If the US lurches hard to right, becomes more belligerent, or heaven forbid, fascistic, then we all suffer.

Over dinner last night with my family we talked about whether to boycott the US.  I laid out my whole quixotic plan. Delete our Netflix, Apple Music and iTunes accounts. Buy nothing from Amazon, or any US retailer. Stop using Google, YouTube, Twitter and any US service.

It was crazy, not something I intended to follow through on.

But, remembering how the US comes down hard on countries that elect leaders they don’t and asking why we shouldn’t make similar hard choices now sparked a vivid conversation, one fuelled with plenty of gallows humour.

The talk soon turned to something else; the way periods of great upheaval produce great art, music & literature.  And, how we need to continue to support that art, beyond the imaginary lines we try to draw on the earth, to separate people from people. I often laud Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On as the greatest pop album of all time. But, it’s easy to forget the social turmoil that gave birth to it.

I have no doubt that the coming months will give us many moments of frustration. We’ll struggle to find words to express our anger, disappointment and rage.

But, we must struggle. We must fight to find the words, the images, the melodies and rhymes to give voice to our emotions, to our sense of how we can build a path to a better life.

Our greatest failure will be if simply sit back and blast off pithy expressions of anguish and despair on social media. Sarcasm is a blunt tool. Humour won’t get us there. Satire has failed us.

We need art.

Daniel 8 years ago

Its naive for Americans to think that the US election only effects the US; the whole world has skin in that game due to American Foreign Policy.

As a Scot living in Canada who’d recently moved over from Sweden; it felt like watching Brexit all over again the same shock and range unintended consequences..

Your right the world needs bridges like art now not walls like social media carpet bombing.

Toni 8 years ago

A good question to ask is “how did they get to this point?”, although the answers to that aren’t encouraging. Essentially we’re seeing the rotten and corrupted heart of America laid open before the world – remember the forum that you & I first met on and the behaviour of some of the wonderful people there?

Brexit and the selection of Jeremy Corbyn to lead the labour party in the UK are both reflections of this, although both have some good reasons behind them too. I’m somewhat in favour of Brexit, though not for the fictitious reason given by either side.

People wanted something different, and like a hormonally driven teenager, they’ve sold their future in order to get their way now. I’m sure that Trump is not the man many Americans hope he is, but they’ll only find that out by demonstration. TBH I doubt that art can bridge the gaps right now, because most people aren’t going to slow down long enough to think about it, but maybe, when they have more space to reflect, it will make a difference.

fernando 8 years ago

Daniel, back in the 90s I remember writers like Anthony Giddens suggesting globalisation was going to move in two directions at the same time, increasingly cosmopolitan and interconnected big cities and increasing local-minded smaller cities, suburbs and rural areas (who by extension would reject globalisation and multiculturalism). Looks like we are seeing the actual shape of those predictions.

fernando 8 years ago

Toni, I have another article, which I may or may not post, which reflects on *that* forum. I do feel what we saw was the early stages of something that has become a much bigger cultural movement.

I do believe in the power of art, the power of a great song or a great painting, but also perhaps more to the point, I believe that art and creative work is what I can do to make a contribution. It will do more than another tweet!

And as for Brexit; yes watching from afar there were some fascinating pro and con arguments that seemed to be completely bypassed in the campaign.

Toni 8 years ago

“I believe that art and creative work is what I can do to make a contribution. It will do more than another tweet!”

I would whole-heartedly agree. 🙂

Yes, we saw something in that forum that spoke with more power than any televangelist. I am recently concerned at the way we continuously remake God in our image, and can only hope that this will break that mould, at least for a while.

Jeff Shattuck 8 years ago

I totally agree, we need art, always the best way to express our feelings and the most constructive way to vent anger. As for a boycott of the U.S., I don’t think you meant for that to be a main point of your post, but if you’re still thinking about it, don’t! Wealth begets freedom, truly, the world’s richest countries are its most free and that is no coincidence. Buy from Amazon, buy from Apple, (obviously, only if they have something you want) and keep people employed and feeling like they have a shot, however slim, of building a happy, prosperous life. I’ve read a lot of articles about why Trump won and to me there are three main reasons: one, Hillary Clinton ran a sophisticated but lame campaign in that she had all the data, money and people one could ask for but just did not use them very effectively (she also lacks charisma, a huge problem) and, as a result, did not inspire enough people to vote for her; two, Trump spoke to people who feel they are left out, and there are a lot of them, and got them to vote pretty much as a block for him, much like Reagan got the Christian Right to vote as a block; three, the U.S. Federal Government is corrupt to the point of it being a real problem and a bit of creative destruction is required. On that last point, Trump is not the guy to do this, I don’t think. He’s just destructive and he is appointing people who are driven by dogma and that’s scary. I hate the situation we’re in but the only way out is greater participation from those who want us to continue to evolve our liberal, capitalist democracy and not let the clock stay turned back.

Toni 8 years ago

Jeff, I have to respectfully disagree about wealth bringing freedom, using Saudi Arabia as one example of great per-capita wealth and considerable cruelty and oppression. One could probably find other examples too. But cutting oneself off from google and other modern forms of communication and trade would simply be self-limiting and un-helpful.

Your reasons why Hillary lost seem to omit one key factor: that she was deeply abhorred by a significant portion of the population, and some serious errors of judgement while campaigning only pushed her further downhill.

Yi Shun Lai 8 years ago

I am so, so pleased you wrote this. I think it means something that several creatives I spoke to are in the same boat, myself included: Art is a way forward in conversation. I hope we can continue to make good conversation with each other through it, no matter what our initial differences.

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