“Something is bound to come of all this. I cannot believe that such monstrous energy of grief can lead to nothing!”
–John Gardner, Grendel
An illustration of the monster Grendel by J.R. Skelton. Originally published in the book Stories of Beowulf Told to Children, 1908.
We are often told that in times of great duress comes great art. It’s something that’s already shown up multiple times in conversations at The Creative Independent over the past couple of weeks—“If nothing else, think of all the great, radicalized art that’s about to be made!” It’s a concept meant to console, but one that instead confounds or simply annoys many artists. Should we all be making political art now? And what does “political art” even mean?
Last week on TCI, Laurie Anderson commented on the artist’s role in complicated political times. “I don’t think that work that’s politically pointed is necessarily more worthy than something that isn’t,” she says. “My example is always like, a giant blue painting can be much more about freedom than 1,800 performance pieces about how free you should be or songs about that.”
So while it’s too soon to say exactly what effect this recent upheaval will have on the universe of art making—or what reactionary political art is or will become—it does make those of us who operate in this world pause and take stock. At a time when the most basic of civil rights are thrown into question, what does it mean to make art? When grief or anger do not feel sufficient, what can art do? When our emotions take us to the streets, why does any of this chatter about art and creative thought even matter?
If you subscribe to the belief (as we do) that creativity, ingenuity, and the desire to shed light on the world rather than obscure it betters us not just as people, but as a species—then working to encourage and spread those ideas is a vital privilege. To value and engender the voices of creators—at a time when those in power would prefer they be silent and subservient—is truly something that all of us here are thankful for. We give thanks for that. And for you.