Friday, August 17, 2012

Responding to Darkness: Politics or Art?

I've been interested to observe my reaction to Mitt Romney's choice of a running mate.  Once, when I was younger, I'd have been so caught up in the events of the past week.  Now, I shrug.  I've felt that way about most political discussions for some time now.

I've been worrying that maybe my attitude signals apathy or numbness. But Beth Adams has written a series of posts over at her blog which gives me comfort.

I wrote more extensively about her ideas in this post on my theology blog.  Part of why I'm pulling back is that the people who want to talk about politics have this raging anger. It's not a righteous anger. It's the kind of anger that so quickly veers to destruction. It feels too dangerous to me. We can't afford it.

I also relate to what Beth says in her second post (the post that has the most relevance to artists):  "What I have realized in the past few years is that, while socio-political issues matter tremendously to me, and I think that political activism is terribly important, for me, at this point, too much immersion in politics kills my creativity. It's pretty much either/or. The energy that it takes for me to be committed and active in politics makes it almost impossible for me to do art or music or write at the level I want to."

She is not calling on artists to withdraw or to avoid voting or anything along those lines.  No, she's calling upon artists to do the transformative work which is so important right now:  "The fact is that we are living in a time when the decision to be an artist, to continue to create in spite of everything that's happening around us, IS a radical political act. This is, I feel, quite a dark time, potentially destructive to the best and most noble aspects of the human spirit. And that's precisely why it is terribly important for artists in all disciplines to continue to create, even when it feels like there's little market and little appreciation for our work. Just doing it, and making the difficult decision to continue to do it -- to live creative lives that celebrate what life is and can be - is both defiant and affirming, and it's crucially important. People need to know that someone they know -- a neighbor, a friend, a cousin -- is committed to the arts. Young people particularly need to know this."

She reminds us that it's not about success, at least not success as our society defines it.  And as a woman who runs a small press, she's well aware of the challenges that artists face in getting their work to a world that so desperately needs it.

I so needed her posts.  It's been a grim week at work, as we face rumors of lay-offs or an even grimmer scenario.  What is coming?  We don't know.

But we never know, do we?  This idea that we have a job that will take us to retirement--that's always been an illusion.  We only know that we have a job today.

Yesterday a colleague was in my office talking about these issues of work and what may be about to fall on our heads.  He stopped, mid-conversation, and said, "How is your poetry coming these days?"

I had a rough draft of a poem on my desk.  I got to work a few days ago with an idea in my head and I thought I'd just sketch out a note for a poem, but then the whole poem came out of me.  Hurrah.

I showed it to him.  We moved from talking about our workplace to our art; he's working on a series of paintings that involve carousel horses.

What a relief to move from talking about rumors to talking about our true work.  In the coming weeks, I need to remember to return to my truest calling.


Beth said...

Kristin, thanks for what you've written here. I'm glad if my posts were a help - poetry doesn't put bread on the table but if our spirits are starving, that's a bigger problem. Good luck with your job. I know whatever happens, you'll be OK.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott said...

Thanks, Beth! My starving spirit is fed so often at your blog (an interesting table metaphor indeed!).