Art in the New World Order: Part II

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Before I delve into part two of this entry, I'd like to share some thoughts about reactions to the first part. I was pleased to get positive reactions from everyone so far and several people expressed sympathy or compassion for my lessening art sales. I found this interesting because this was not the point of my post. The idea was that most of us are dealing with similar issues regardless of what line of work we are in. I don't think I am much different than many people today who are trying to deal with a shift in the paradigm. However, as artists I believe we need to keep in mind the level of privilege we enjoy just by being able to make art for a living. I don't mean to downplay the importance of what we do but I don't think we should start feeling too sorry for ourselves given the plight of so many people much less advantaged than we are. It's important to keep things in perspective, especially in this time of economic and political uncertainty.

So, aside from the rather mundane subject of meeting your financial obligations, how else does this period of change affect the contemporary artist? I think for some, there may not be much need for change, but my work is motivated by social, political and economic issues. See my first post for a rundown on the issues that my projects address. Although it is never this simple, much of my motivation has been directly related to the first election of George W. Bush, the events surrounding 9/11, the illegal war in Iraq, the second election of George W. Bush and the Bush administration's ongoing assault on the constitution and the bill of rights. Many of my artistic friends and colleagues have also cited these issues as motivation for their projects, even if the work doesn't appear political on the surface.

The election of Barak Obama and the widespread vilification of the Bush administration has raised so many questions for me that I don't know where to begin. One one level, I am still suspicious and skeptical that Obama can possibly live up to the expectations that have been thrust upon him. I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop but, so far, he seems to be doing a hell of a job and he isn't even president yet. So, what happens if he is what he appears to be? What if he's the catalyst that begins the change toward a new American paradigm that values people over money? This is what many of us have been clamoring for for years now, although I think few of us actually thought it would/could happen.

Essentially, what has happened is that we've gotten what we wanted…finally. Yes, of course, we still have wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the specter of fanatical religious terrorism, a plummeting economy and a dim reputation in global politics. These are all issues that need addressing and will continue to be emotional inspiration to create artwork. But, what if Obama starts doing all the things we'd like to see done? What if he pulls out of Iraq and does his best to bring the Afghan issue to a close sooner rather than later? What if the government actually starts doing things we like? What if a national health care system gets established? What if the educational system is improved? What if, slowly but surely, most of the major issues I've had with the government in recent years get addressed and fixed? It's a bit of a pipe dream but it seems like it could be a possibility.

Let me digress for a moment with an apt, albeit trite, analogy. Growing up in Boston, I became a member of Red Sox Nation at an early age. For those of you reading from overseas, the Red Sox are Boston's beloved baseball team. I grew up watching my team fail, over and over, in increasingly more spectacular ways. We got used to disappointment and the struggle became a badge of honor among fans. In 2004 it finally happened. The Sox won their first World Series Championship in 86 years. They managed to win again in 2007. After the initial elation of the first taste of victory, many of my friends started to express that they liked the Red Sox better before they won the championship. I'm sure there's an appropriate psychological name for this phenomenon, but how dysfunctional can you get? We've wanted it so long, now we have it, and we're still not happy? I made a conscious decision not to be sucked in by that mentality and have instead chosen to cherish the victories for what they are.

I plan to do the same thing with the political change we seem to be seeing right now. I will maintain a critical and skeptical outlook but, so far, things look pretty good in terms of our leadership. I am concerned about many things in the world today but the core outrage that the Bush administration inspired in me is dissipating. The apparent collapse of super-capitalism leads me to believe we are witnessing the advent of major changes in the way economies and societies are structured. I can't realistically expect that all of my concerns are going to be addressed immediately, but as long as change seems to be happening, my emotional state becomes less angry and more hopeful.

Does this mean I am going to start making happy-go-lucky artwork that doesn't take a critical look at important aspects of our culture? I don't think so, but it does mean that I will need to shift my inspiration, and possibly my motivation, for future projects. Most of my work is multi-layered and investigates far more deeply than the issues I've written about here, so I'm not worried about being at a loss for creative energy or inspiration. I do feel different, though. It's a good feeling, so I am resisting the addiction to outrage and grasping the opportunity for a change in me, which I'm sure will change my artwork as well.

Just to be clear, I am well aware that there will always be plenty of things to be upset about. The current era of change we are probably entering into isn't going to abolish injustice, war, crimes against humanity, human rights violations…the list is endless. Of course, we need to remain aware and keep a sharp eye on the conduct of ourselves and others. The difference now is that our government may actually share our concerns, and they have the power to do something about it.

It's a unique and unfamiliar situation for the politically motivated artist to be in. I really don't know what the future holds for us but I am proceeding with hope, optimism and a healthy trepidation. Let's enjoy it while we can.