The Artist’s Cross to Bear in an Increasingly Strident AntiArt Paradigm
"Democratic nations will habitually prefer the useful to the beautiful, and they will require that the beautiful be useful."
-- Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America
For as long as I have been alive, American culture has been charged with obligations once considered the exclusive responsibility of American politics. Instead of our impotent and corrupt politicians dealing with the homeless, the jobless, the uninsured, the rot from within caused by greed and weakness, the unchecked stomping of the leviathan Corporations on our lives and environment, American culture has taken up the challenge of becoming a form of a deeply committed social worker.
The idea that artists must first deal with a social commitment apart from the quality of the work begins a slow system of rewarding organizations and individual artists that fit a specific social responsibility regardless of whether or not the art is any good. Those companies who refuse to fall in line with this system are inevitably relegated to the impoverished ghetto of the laizzes-fair capitalism because they don't have a cultural outreach program or a children's theater branch.
Currently, the artistic form most under fire is comedy. Oh...and movies. And theater, fashion design, television, museum art, and knitting. Yes. Knitting is under fire for not being appropriately woke in the wake of the Great Over Corrective Wokeness Patrol.
In a post entitled “A Letter on My Not-So-“Cozy” Doocot Sweater: aka My First and Last Kate Davies Project,” Helen Kim (@keinhelm4 on Instagram, who describes herself as an advocate for antiracism and an astrophysicist), wrote:
As more and more voices in the fiber community discussed their concerns about racism and lack of representation, I patiently waited for the designers I respected to do the same. Days went by, weeks, and yet I naively found myself wanting to give these makers the benefit of the doubt for withholding their views while they continued to advertise their products and snowy winters.
Davies then withdrew as a speaker from the Edinburgh Yarn Festival citing health reasons following a campaign led by Kim to have her disinvited. Kim, who was probably Davies’s most vocal critic, concluded a story entitled “Call Out” (which can be found at the top of her Instagram profile) with the following:
To those who worry about [Kate Davies’s] career and the impact her own reactions have caused her, perhaps you should consider that historically BIPOC have been the ones who have been wronged and oppressed. Ask yourselves: in what ways do you hold power? In what ways do you hold power over BIPOC? How have you been complicit in that structure of power? How do your actions, inactions, and privileges reflect systemic racism? How do you want to acknowledge the system and your complicity? […] KD actively SILENCED those who are different from her and tokenized them. That is called RACISM and DISCRIMINATION. As a white woman knitwear designer with over 75K followers and international renown, Kate Davies was NOT vulnerable. Rather, she was in a position of power.
There will always be artists whose primary fixation is a focus on inequity in the world. There will always be comedians who find fault in the power dynamics of politics and mock the wicked, the stupid, and the ludicrous. As much as the Wokesters really hated Chapelle’s and Burr’s Netflix specials these are comics who make a living pointing out our own hypocrisies and pretentions and make us laugh at ourselves. If you aren’t laughing, you’re the butt of the joke and may have lost your self reflective ability to see yourself as an object of mockery.
Artists who are useful to activists and who are activists themselves are sometimes extraordinary (Samantha Bee) and other times tedious (Hannah Gadsby) and this ratio is no different from those who eschew wokeness as a badge of inclusion. It is ridiculous to demand that all artists follow the dogma of either conservative or progressive political thought because that demand shaves off the rough edges.
And yet that demand exists and is proliferated through the veil of self righteousness and the vilification of what was beautiful or ugly or hysterical or tragic throughout a history misunderstood or reviled by the NeoThought of the Identitarian Left and Right.
"The biggest favor we do for people is to release them. Society, culture, puts them in jail—and we let them out. The rule-makers, whoever they are, decided a box you're going to live in. We need to be reminded that you can step out of the box—and you can go right back in again if you want, too."
— Billy Connolly ("Satiristas: Comedians, Contrarians, Raconteurs & Vulgarians" by Paul Provenza)
In this revision of art history, where do the works of Shakespeare land? Van Gogh? Bukowski? The Beatles? Given these are all white dudes, my guess is they don’t have sway anymore for a very small, very vocal segment of society. So? Art is subjective and the ‘cancelling’ of an artist doesn’t effect most people (see the raging popularity of Chapelle despite the critical mob pissing and moaning about him).
Sometimes a knitter is just a fucking knitter and isn’t out to participate in your narcissistic psychodrama. Sometimes your issues don’t mean a goddamned thing to them. If you’ve ever hung out with a garage band practicing in a cramped room with a single six-pack of PBR amongst them, they pretty much don’t give a fuck about your take on Critical Race Theory and Intersectionality. They’re making music.
At one point in history, the Roman Catholic Church banned any art that was not taken from the Bible and approved by the clergy. At one point in history, the Nazis burned any art that Hitler labeled degenerate art. Today in history, the Woketivists use social media to tar and feather artists who do not fall in line with their perversions of academic theory, sociological mumble jumbo, and moralizing.
It is not the job as artists to make the world a better place to live. Artists make art. Period. It is our duty to entertain and illuminate, to provide opportunities for the audiences we have to momentarily separate from the grind of daily existence and in that moment, give them food for thought. It is our job to create excellent artistic presentation, the quality of the experience being our number one priority.
Mel Brooks, known for his plethora of acclaimed comedy movies, said political correctness was becoming a stranglehold on comedians.
"It's not good for comedy. Comedy has to walk a thin line, take risks," he said.
"Comedy is the lecherous little elf whispering in the king's ear, always telling the truth about human behaviour."
Artists refuse to stay in the box. Artists do not work within the system. Artists seek stories that show the triumph or failure of the individual versus the conformity of the System. Artists do not sacrifice the integrity of their work in order to market it better or develop their audience. While everyone can create art, not everyone is an artist. An artist is not defined by his or her income. Artists do not solve problems, they reveal them and provide insight. Artists can make you laugh, cry and question your own place in the world. Artists do not accept the Standard Party Line.
And, if ideas and words are prohibited by the masses or the government, it is the artist’s right to express those things that have been banned. Or at least knit them.