September 14, 2020

Art Changes People

        It’s been a while since I quoted someone at you to prove again how important art, fantasy, and imagination are, but as we watch the swirling storm clouds over a world that cries out for change, it seems a good time.  First, here is writer Rebecca Solnit acknowledging the sometimes deep and invisible roots of change:

        After a rain mushrooms appear on the surface of the earth as if from nowhere. Many do so from a sometimes vast underground fungus that remains invisible and largely unknown. What we call mushrooms mycologists call the fruiting body of the larger, less visible fungus. Uprisings and revolutions are often considered to be spontaneous, but less visible long-term organizing and groundwork — or underground work — often laid the foundation. Changes in ideas and values also result from work done by writers, scholars, public intellectuals, social activists, and participants in social media. It seems insignificant or peripheral until very different outcomes emerge from transformed assumptions about who and what matters, who should be heard and believed, who has rights.

        Ideas at first considered outrageous or ridiculous or extreme gradually become what people think they’ve always believed. How the transformation happened is rarely remembered, in part because it’s compromising: it recalls the mainstream when the mainstream was, say, rabidly homophobic or racist in a way it no longer is; and it recalls that power comes from the shadows and the margins, that our hope is in the dark around the edges, not the limelight of center stage. Our hope and often our power.

        Of course I want to call attention to Solnit’s mention of the work done by writers, and add to that the work of artists.  One part of our job is to bring forth the mushrooms of imagination, taking tiny mycelial threads of ideas and popping them up into the white stalks and frilled and spotted caps that others may notice, and consider, and perhaps remember.  Our mushrooms loose their spores into the air, millions of miniscule specks, like particles of smoke, of which we never know when, whether, or where one may land in a hospitable environment and lead in time to the mushrooming forth of further imagination somewhere else.

        I try to avoid politics in this blog largely because, while I do not wish to be an ostrich with my head in the sand, nevertheless we all need places we can go to have respite from the stress.  Still, I have always maintained that art and writing do not exist merely as the negative space of not-stress.  They have an important job to do as the positive space of helping us imagine a better world, so that we can move toward it.  At times like the present I find it easy to feel like my small-time art and writing are not much, certainly not enough, and perhaps really a waste of time altogether.  And that’s when it’s important to remember the simple but powerful words of artist Joey Hartmann-Dow:

        Art changes people, and people change the world.

[Pictures: Wood block prints from The herbal, or, Generall historie of plantes by John Gerarde, enlarged and amended by Thomas Johnson, 1636 (Images from Internet Archive).]

Quotations from Hope in the Dark by Rebecca Solnit, 2016 (as quoted by Maria Popova in “Brain Pickings”), and Joey Hartmann-Dow as quoted in Friends Journal, June/July 2018.

No comments: