Monday, October 31, 2005

Renegotiating the Role of Art in Society

Driving out from Austin today, I began to think a bit about art and it's place in our world and lives. That is, art somewhat broadly paintings, photography, music, performance art, etc.

And I began to think about how our culture is so theraputic. Because of that, it seems the art of the American society is very theraputic...and therefore sometimes anemic and self-centered. Not that art for therapy sake isn't important (in fact, I would argue that it is a huge part of good art), but art that ends with catharsis could simply be empty and hollow in its own sort of way.

You see, I have been considering the prophetic and revolutionary role of art and how much of that seems lost in our world today. Or at least in my everyday vision.

In certain places and times, art has been used to start revolution, announce solidarity, pave the way for change.

Strangely, art has in several ways come under the umbrella of entertainment. And the purpose of entertainment is very different from the purpose of art. Dollars and numbers versus momentum and movement.

So partner the capitalistic intentions of entertainment with a society that loves to emotionally masturbate to other people's exhibitionistic therapy and you get the oh so over-rated music of America (and perhaps the rest of the world as well).

Michael tells me that good art must come from truth...and that is why the theraputic role of art is important. It has to come from a place that is true to us. But if it ends there, it is merely therapy. Can't we move from there to a place where truth doesn't just comfort people (which is important), but where it moves people to newness, creativity, imagination.

Isn't it the artists job to open peoples eyes, ears, and minds to a better way, a better day, a better world? Ought not more artists use their craft to describe the injustice/unwholeness of our world and offer subversive counter-narratives that bring about justice/wholeness?

It seems like some musicians are dabbling in these things with their lives or talking about them interviews, but seldom are they incorporating it into their art (although certainly some are). For example, Chris Martin of Coldplay in every picture has a 'MAKE TRADE FAIR' thing on his person. But has he written any songs about it? Is it such a segregated thing for him that it isn't a place of truth to write from? Perhaps it's simply a logo? I'd like to think not, but who knows?


ashdown said...

amen brother!! i so afternoon amanda and i decided to watch a little mtv to see 'what the kids these days are listenin to' and i must say i wanted to vomit afterwards. seriously, it was horrible. the music was grossly entertainment and incredibly crappy.

and this lead me down a similar thought process as you; what is the purpose of music? so thanks for the post to help stimulate my thoughts as well.

and i agree with you...where is the art these days that is calling people to a renewal and where is the art that calls for a better way of life than just the american regime. that is the art that i long for...

Andrew G. said...

That's a very interesting point that I was thinking about a few months ago. I was thinking a lot about movies and that art form and was wondering if it was possible to create art when, on some level or another, there was a capitalistic hinge that held it's life in sway. Likewise, all other art forms would seem to fall into this line of thinking. Can we create art that is full of integrity, honesty, and creativity, without being hindered by the notions of money and self-centered pride? I'm not sure that they can...

Also, along the lines of the current trends in music and such, I wonder if we're not victims of artists actually reflecting what they do see in their worlds. Most American artists don't have a whole lot of struggle to draw from, not that it's not there. It's just that they're selective about what they're choosing to see. Hope that makes sense.

Last but not least, I think that largely the reason artists don't target concerns of justice, etc., in their work is because, just like many artists under the "Christian" banner, is that they don't wish to be seen as too preachy. There is always a financial and social danger in truly being authentic and revolutionary. I think most artists are afraid of that loss and would rather choose the walk of cheap grace. said...

jesus of suburbia... green day....not sure how i feel about it, but its definitely using art.

Ryan Lee Sharp said...

Exactly. And who'd have guessed Green Day? Or Sufjan Stevens, U2, Ben Folds... There are definitely some that give me hope...

Eric Wakeling said...

andrew - I think you are right about the preachy thing. I know that Bono is so outspoken, but he is always concerned about being too preachy, but I love how he writes songs about issues and needs or areas of the world.

Ryan - that comment about Chris Martin is really striking me. It seems really true - not judging because he makes incredible art and fights for causes. Maybe I just don't know what the Coldplay songs are about? But it seems to make sense that our art and our faith or our heart's ache for the troubles of the world must mesh together. It's like saying that certain parts of life are not spiritual - which is obviously untrue. It's all spiritual - thanks to Mike Erre for that one. But that message has really been hitting me and it is probably the same with art. You can't create a dichotomy of art and heart OR God and every day life. It all must mush together in a beautiful messy stew. I like stew.

I wish I could paint. I will just keep writing songs for my wife and I to love - along with the Creator.