The Power of Art

Art speaks. Art loud and quiet, in your face and under the radar, beautiful and ugly, obvious and enigmatic, and art is subversive.  Art is powerful. Art can support, art can bring down, art can evoke and provoke, and it is dangerous.  And if our So-Called President doesn’t understand art and its power, their are people in his administration who do.

The Administration is proposing cutting the funding for the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) in the 2018 budget.  They are proposing this as a cost-saving measure, but at $148M, this represents a mere 0.003% of the federal budget.  To put that in perspective, the cost to U.S. taxpayers for the S0-Called President to travel to his personal Florida retreat for nearly every weekend since his inauguration has been $10M so far. For one month (CBS News).  It’s not about money.  It’s about an attempt to silence artists.

Just last week, I visited the Women Now exhibit at the Lorton Workhouse in Lorton, VA.  Lorton was a workhouse and a prison, and is now an arts center.  This exhibit highlights the struggle of women one hundred years on from the suffragists who were imprisoned at the workhouse.  This exhibit is political.  It speaks to the workhouse that exhibits it. It speaks to the struggle of women. It speaks to persistence.  It speaks.

There are interactive elements of the exhibit that invite us to be participants, not only in the moment, but in the creation of the art from a deep place. Interaction invites us to consider our own struggle, our own commitment, our own persistence, or perhaps our own  complicity.

Art is like water. It can seep in where more direct communication often cannot.  And we can understand.  When Sen. Joseph McCarthy was engaging in metaphorical communist witch hunts through the Senate Permanent Sub-Committee on Investigations, the playwrite Arthur Miller wrote the play “The Crucible,” which appeared to be about a literal witch-hunt, based on the transcripts of the Salem witch trials of 1692-93.  The play was produced in 1953, at the height of McCarthyism, and Miller’s statement was clear.  Except that it was about something that happened in Massachusetts in the 17th century.  So Sen. McCarthy couldn’t come out and say that it was about him, without acknowledging that he was, indeed, conducting a witch hunt.  Art is ingenious.

Artist Shephard Fairey created a series of posters called “We The People” in response to the inauguration and dramatic increase in hate crimes since the election.  The posters depict all sorts of Americans who are diverse in all sorts of ways.  They are powerful statements.  Recently, the Carroll County Schools in Maryland insisted that teachers remove these posters from classrooms, because some people perceive the posters as “anti-Trump.” (read more here).  The posters say things such as “We the people protect each other” or “We the people are greater than fear” or “We the people defend dignity.”  Think about that for a moment.  This is what is perceived as being “anti-Trump.”  Art is provocative.  This means that the So-Called President and his supporters are claiming that it is against him to be greater than fear, or to defend dignity.  Art is important.  You can see  the posters and download them for free here, by the way.

Since the time that the prophet Nathan told King David a story about a rich man who stole a sheep from a poor man to provoke David to do the right thing, people have been using art as tool for justice.  Use art. Go and see art. Support it. Make art.

Art is dangerous. It’s subversive. And it’s important.  What will you subvert today?

That’s my mite. It’s all I’ve got.

 

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