The world feels hopeless. Between Trump and Bolsonaro, Johnson, Jinping, Modi, Putin.
The news scroller in the hospital tells me that the pound is surging and the stock market is rising. It tells me that the Democrats intend to impeach Trump. Trump has struck a trade deal with China, and humans are responsible for making American parrots extinct. Progressive hope seems downtrodden, and my friends are all looking at each other while we try to make sense of what happened. Nobody knows how it went so wrong. How the country voted for such a monumentally destructive course (in my middle-class remainer position). We all have suspicions.
What does this mean for artists? It is an imperative to make art. It is an imperative whether we’re making beautiful art to replenish and restore the reserves of a drained and divided population, a step. Art whether we’re challenging people to be better, to crack their shells and let the light in, or planning the tearing down and rebuilding of our lives and communities. It means we are needed more than ever to reach out and create the possibilities of worlds that hang just before our fingertips.
Art isn’t the preserve and property of people who want to create apolitical beauty – but nor is beauty apolitical right now, because nothing is. If you make an active decision not to tackle politics, to not have people of colour, or disabled, or queer, or trans people in your work, then that’s a statement about how you see the world, and how it reflects people like you, and nobody else. If you write about cultures you don’t know and have never engaged with, it reeks of colonialism. Now isn’t the time for that.
In many ways, this election failed to be the progressive possibility it might have been because as a population we failed at building bridges and reaching out to people ‘not like us’. And that isn’t the fault of those people that worked at it, but fault is a zero sum game. It didn’t happen. That’s the fact. And art can make it happen. Art builds worlds into which we can invite people. It offers the very real possibility of showing people what it means to live and exist with certain experiences, and through that, the possibility of drawing connections with people.
Through art, I can maybe convey the fear and terror of what it means to be this dependent on the NHS, on an NHS that can, at any moment, force me into a care home. Maybe I can share the agony of months waiting for a wheelchair that doesn’t further twist my spine. The realisation that even leaving my house is something I have to beg to be supported in doing. That fragility of life – that a life sentence for nothing more than being expensive waits round the corner. That I am always trying to avoid the ghosts of myself that hide in other timelines, where I’m already institutionalised. The fact that my freedom is jealously guarded.
As long as we go into this convinced of our rightness, certain that there is nothing left for us to learn, only to teach people what it is to lead our lives, we will never build those connections that can change the world. I want to know what it means to be an older man from a manufacturing background who has slowly had each dignified job taken away from him. I want to ask him to share it with me, and to support me in writing about it.
We cannot only make art that reflects us, and our stories. We should, I believe, do that to some extent. Do that because it reaches out to people and invites them to share our experience. But then we need to make art that goes beyond that. We need to make art that builds bridges between experiences. That sees the commonalities and humanity in our connections , and then welcomes our shared humanity.. We need to talk and research and understand, then build on that.
We need to commit to regular practice on days when the grey cloud hangs so low our minds seem to be swallowed by it. We need to talk and hope a future, and we need to art it into being. When we feel like we cannot go on creating, we cannot go on at all, we need to reach out to other artists. We need to build resilient communities and communal working methods that can last beyond the immediate crisis to look at the future. We need to not be destroyed by bad news, when we are stronger than that.
Who is with me? Who am I with? And what do I have to offer?
My ability to provide online support and communication is limited. I struggle with typing, and I am at capacity. However, I can provide a lovely co-working space to friends and colleagues, in my flat, with my greyhound. If you know me, reach out. If you don’t, get to know me. Slowly.
I want to build. If we can do it now. when we’re shocked and stunned, when we’re sickened by the feeling that our country has changed irrevocably, then we can do it any time.