Making art in times like this

Originally published Aug 16, 2017.

Like anyone with a functional conscious, I’m sick to my stomach at a lot of what’s happening in the news right now.  Like a lot of the folks around me, I’m really scared because of it.  And I know at least a few of those folks are struggling to create art right now.  There’s a real sense of futility to creating when it feels like we’re watching the world come to an end.

I’d be lying if I said I haven’t felt some of that futility myself.  Though my output hasn’t been shaken that much by world events, it definitely took some time to get there.  Unfortunately, I don’t have the magic words or the unique insight that’s going to make everyone reading this feel better about what’s happening in the world, or feel less paralyzed by fear.  All I can do is talk about what’s kept me creating even as it feels like we’re approaching the end times.

Part of it is a very pragmatic and boring line of reasoning best summarized as “might as well”.  I’m just one person, and the fate of the world doesn’t hinge on my actions.  The world is going to either keep on keeping on or spiral to its doom regardless of whatever I might try to do to stop it. (If the last year has done anything, it’s destroyed my confidence in the power of the individual.) And that also means the fate of the world doesn’t hinge on whether I’m making art or not.  So why not make art?

Even if our days are numbered, the fact is, the world isn’t ending right now.  We have to do something to pass the time between now and the end.  I could either spend that time never getting out of bed, thinking about how awful the world is, or I could spend it making art.  The latter is certainly a lot more fun.

Of course, it’s not that simple, or else there wouldn’t be so many creative types feeling like making art right now is pointless.

I read a Facebook post once by a singer whose name I regrettably can’t remember.  It was posted in the wake of one of the many recent demoralizing events.  She talked about how she felt the same sense of futility about her art, really about doing anything in the face of these new horrors. (Or new faces of old horrors, really.)  And she talked about the sense of powerlessness to do anything about it.

I can’t remember whether she already had a show scheduled, or was in the midst of scheduling one.  But she posted about the upcoming show on her Facebook page, and the post was flooded with comments from fans thanking her.  They thanked her for giving them something to look forward to, and something to take their mind off of things.  And when she performed at that show, surrounded people who were just as excited to be there, for a moment, everything felt okay.

That story has stuck with me ever since I read it, and what it demonstrates is what ultimately pushed me back to creating art.  Sure, in the grand scope of the political theater, whether or not I make art is of no consequence.  But it’s not of no consequence to you folks.  In fact, judging by all the lovely comments and messages I’ve gotten from people, it’s of quite some consequence, in a positive way.

That’s ultimately what motivates me to make art in the face of annihilation.  I might be scared shitless that the world is going to end, but I’m not the only one.  And if I can help other folks who are scared to feel just a little better, to give them something to look forward to, to take their minds off of things, then I think that’s a great reason to keep writing.

(I avoided mentioning specific events, ideologies, politicians, and groups/movements in this post, because I am not looking to get into a political discussion.  I ask that you do the same in the comments.  Any comments that don’t, even civil ones that avoid trolling and name-calling, will be deleted.)

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