To Rescue Art
Author's note: During the months-long editing of this essay, conflict has broken out on the international stage. "To Rescue Art" predates this conflict, focusing instead on the culture war gripping the Western art world, especially in the United States. Neither is to be belittled, though perhaps, in fact, their concurrence shouldn't be dismissed.
Our world is quickly changing.
Is it changing for the better? I’ve spent many months pulling at threads in my intuition, finding few assurances as leads trail into impenetrable darkness. My trepid questions feel like caged canaries in the mines of inquiry—I seek, and dread, the answers.
Some dark places have bright memories. I set out on my artistic path as an idealist. A great many of my ideals, however, have revealed themselves tragically naïve in quick succession, like so many dominoes falling. Left standing was the sober realization that, in the eyes of far too many artists, our world is too spotless a place. We’ve whiled away too many quiet years disseminating a recklessly inaccurate representation of reality, gleaming with whitewashed evil. Our guard thus fallen, under cover of this willful blindness evil seeks its perennial return to our doorstep. Safely distanced from its past atrocities we forget history’s most eternal lesson—evil is deceptive. It disguises itself, leaving fingers pointed in all the wrong directions, as we have for eons ushered it cheerfully across the threshold. Most insidious of all, however, is our self-deception. As we search ever outward for this evil, it seethes within our own hearts uncontested. It is, after all, part of our very nature, and we have once again lost the light of truth that keeps evil at bay. Through this I’ve awakened to a valuable, and hard-learned, lesson: To rescue art we must find truth, and in our search for truth we must confront reality.
In reality, as we speak, a cold war rages. The lack of bullets and bombs does not in itself justify our insistence on normalcy. Our virtual spaces have already devolved into savage battlegrounds, rife with unspeakable atrocities. How long will they remain confined to the digital realm? History shows that warfare often haunts the wake of failed diplomacy, and at present our faction lines are well-drawn as negotiations falter. The dividing wall has risen until it towers over reality itself, severing it entirely. These unrecognizable segments are our subjective present, lived in whispers and deception. Now even the mainstream sell their wares only to their own tribesmen (“misinformation” the darling word du jour for contraband in this economy) and dehumanization of dissent has galvanized the polarity of our now-separate species. The last remaining ties that bind us are being quickly cut. Art as we know it, dependent as it is on universal truths, may not survive the brutality of our hatred unleashed. To become capable defenders, artists everywhere must prepare to confront their preconceptions of darkness and light.
"It is better to be a warrior in a garden than a gardener in a war."
In reality free thought, the food of liberal art, is critically endangered—yet the industry grinds stubbornly onward, claiming harvests it hasn't sown. Treat with caution those who would evoke the voice of our sacred muse at a time like this. She does not speak to half-souls in the throes of conflict—wartime art, proven time and again, is fraught with propaganda for the cause. At a time like this, few would dare speak the gilded language of peace—mostly fools, or deceivers. Peace has left us, and in the noxious vacuum our cold war grows steadily warmer. We must first labor through crisis and find peace on the other side; only then may we again enjoy its fruit in harmony. Countless artists through history have put aside their parchment and canvas when their worlds have fallen under attack, and their states or their causes have been threatened. They have become soldiers, and leaders. Thought gives way to action. For this same reason, in this climate, I have likewise put down my pen. Amid such a gathering storm the flame of creativity, flickering dangerously, shows its vulnerability. The very voice that once called me to that noble pursuit now highlights a more vital imperative: We who helped build this world must now step out and protect it, trading anthems for armor and ink for iron.
"a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak,
a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace."
This realization has happened gradually, but it began with a rude awakening. Two summers ago, while fires roared around the world, I noted a very different danger than what hysterical headlines proclaimed: Though crowds shrieked for justice, I watched in horror as they slaughtered truth and shattered peace. Words were wielded as weapons with deadly intent. Violence raged uncontested, even celebrated, and freedoms dissipated by the day. Fearing a critical threat to our creative world I set my music down and I risked entering the fray, seeking but to temper this chaos. However, the response I received was swift and brutally clear: "The New Order makes no room for pacifists." Overnight my allies declared themselves my enemies. Fraternal bonds were broken, and battle lines were drawn. "You are either with us or you are against us" rang their parting shots. There have since been no reversals nor, I wonder, even remorse. Indeed, after nearly two years the illiberal armies have continued their unrelenting assault with nary a glance to their trails of desolation. Worse, any invitation to discourse has invariably reeked of public spectacle, smacking of entrapment. Campaigns such as this are not merely forgivable misunderstandings, nor are they renounced as assault. They are tactical operations, bearing the full-throated support of a zealous faction intent on dehumanizing and utterly eliminating its opposition. These are acts of war, with no quarter given. Must we lie down meekly, clinging to our ideals like white flags, and be routed?
"A harmless man is not a good man.
A good man is a very dangerous man who has that under voluntary control."
—Jordan B. Peterson
To be attacked is not to be defeated. Far too many frail hearts claim victimhood today, and I will not be one of them. I will never regret my decision to abandon the safety of silence, consequences be damned. I will never disavow my words challenging this hideous descent into postmodern totalitarianism; a calamity which has dragged creativity in its wake. The century-old Marxist specter, rashly exhumed by those who know not what they do, now looms hungrily over a world of art. Stifling discrimination, masquerading as egalitarianism, awaits in its maw. Meritocracy—verily, the voice of true inspiration itself—lies in the dust, bloodied and beaten. Where are its defenders? There has always existed a silent majority, spectating by the battlefield, washing their hands of gore and guilt. This quiet multitude must find their courage and their voice before it's too late.
In a Marxist future art may stumble on, dead on its feet, but the messages we think we hear are but echoes from within its vacant shell. I will not accept such a future. We must not.
I once wrote "Age-old liberties now gasp their last breaths. The sky darkens even as our figureheads herald the dawn. Huddled in the waning privacy of our lives we beat our plowshares back into swords. Now is not the time for song." In reality, it is no simple matter to return to the music-making of yesterday. Not yet. We live in a society where race and gender are now categorized like products on the market shelf. Authenticity is lost. We live in a society where differences of perspective are now classified as violent threat. Creativity is lost. We live in a society where, turning our dystopian authors into prophets, freedoms are now being willingly laid on the altar of safety. Bravery is lost. In this society I see few open eyes and I hear fewer open ears. As the totalitarian curtain drops lower, free speech struggles in the thinning air, and our vision of artistic inspiration fades in the gathering shadow. Art’s own disciples have marched away beneath their proud banners of “PROGRESS” and trampled the truth amongst the confetti. Art, and truth; we have betrayed them both. At a tragic moment such as this, the sound of song rings hollow. No; there are first fires to put out, defenses to shore, and sacred spaces to rebuild. How long depends largely upon our courage and our determination.
“Hard times create strong men. Strong men create good times.
Good times create weak men. And, weak men create hard times.”
—G. Michael Hopf
Our world is quickly changing, and there is much to do. Art no longer needs pacifists. It needs warriors. Thus we must each grow; resolute, competent, and powerful. I learned through my own experience with social ostracization that, though community support can enrich our lives, we cannot depend on it to live. I will therefore strengthen my ability to support, and defend, myself and those I love, even and especially when unaided. I will hone my moral code, and I will bolster my courage to stand by it even and especially when unpopular. I will, at the same time, seek a greater respect for those of my brethren, even and especially when different. Setting my ideals safely aside, I will trade in the comforts of peace for the burdens of war, and I will pursue the necessary fortitude to bear them. And I will hope, but I will also labor and fight, for a world where art may find its voice again.