NBC just posted an article about artists rising up against Trump. It’s an interesting piece that talks about everything from plays to poetry, and it gives a panorama of especially the younger generations of American artists. It’s easy to feel ineffective in the fight against Trump, when he can undo so much with an executive twitch. It’s easy to feel ineffective as an artist, when you spend all of one day having a conversation with imaginary people, and spend all of the next day erasing everything you wrote. Nobody benefits from that. You can look over years of that routine, and decide that nobody ever benefits.
But when you use art in reaction to Trump, something interesting happens. Trumpites have decided, in general, to become impervious to reason. Facts do not serve them. For now, at least, logic from facts will not touch them. But although portrait and story might emerge from facts, the depth of such artistry’s reach comes through encounter. Art places a person—a gay man, say, or a refugee— in front of the audience, and then it demands empathy. By appealing to the audience’s humanity, it kills any effort to dehumanize. In fact, if the art is good enough, it is literally moving—which is to say it transports a person from one stance to another. The history of art is full of this sort of thing, from the Book of Jonah to Dorothea Lange. I mean, Uncle Tom’s Cabin helped to start an actual war. So if you are an artist who opposes Trump, accept that you have work to do. Speak up on Facebook, or on a blog, or in the op-ed column, or at the community theater—or in the pulpit, or at the benefit concert, or in the gallery on Washington and Main. Devote your life to creating encounter. Give it all you can, and be content with the goodness in this endeavor. Through art, you might not directly love your enemy, but you will offer love to them. And if nothing else, when history looks over the shambles of our present era, you will have left a record of your own resistance.
(Originally posted January 6, 2017)