September 21, 2022

International Peace Day

         Today is the International Day of Peace, and although (as with most such declared days), we’d be much better off with more than one a year, I do want to address how we think about peace.  In art it’s relatively straightforward: there are many works of art, small and large, famous and personal, that celebrate, explore, promote, or cry out for peace.  There are pieces that reproach us about the costs of war (Picasso’s “Guernica,” Nevinson’s “Paths of Glory,” Kollwitz’s “The Parents”) and pieces that call us into the benefits of love (Rockwell’s “Golden Rule,” Hicks’s “Peacable Kingdom” )  There are pieces that explore how we can reach across divides, and how we can better understand each other’s needs, hopes, and dreams.  There are pieces that simply invite us to sink down into beauty.  As for myself, many of my block prints include at least some element of the work of promoting peace: All In this Together, Out of Darkness, Keep Dancing, Tree of Life, Blessing, Behold, it is Good, The Enormous Turnip, Dancing with Animals, The Family Who Lived in a Shoe, Holy Mountain, Hope…  I enjoy portraying people of all sorts and creatures of all varieties living, working, and playing together in cooperation and love.  A picture can open new worlds in the mind, and can stick in the heart in a way that makes art an important tool for peace.
        What about stories about peace?  Well, in some ways that’s a lot harder because after all, plot equals conflict.  No conflict, no plot; no plot, no story.  So a description of a peaceful Utopia is unlikely to be much of a story, and since stories are so much more powerful to humans than philosophical musings (It’s All About Stories), no matter how much we may intellectually support peace, what we really get excited about are those gripping stories where our heroes keep slashing or shooting or punching until they kill all the bad guys.  And when those are the stories we cherish, it can be very hard to imagine peace.  So, what’s a story writer to do?
        Well, first of all, this is one of those places where speculative fiction could have a special edge in saving the world (How Juvenile Fantasy Will Save the Earth).  Certainly retelling true stories of peace is incredibly important, and it’s vital to be reminded that true stories of peace are indeed more common and more achievable than the news would have us believe.  In addition to these stories, speculative fiction can also help us imagine new and even more powerful visions of peace.  But how, without plots full of conflict?
        1. First of all, peace is not necessarily about the absence of conflict, but rather about how conflicts are dealt with.  Where there are people (and all sorts of organisms) encountering each other, there are inevitably going to be conflicts.  But do we tell stories in which the only way to “solve” conflicts is to slash, shoot, and punch until all the bad guys are dead?  Or can we tell each other different stories, in which creativity, respect, understanding, and love are brought to bear?  Stories in which, instead of winners and losers, there are comings-together?  Many of my books explore these themes, especially the Otherworld series, The Bad Advice of Grandma Hasenfuss, and the Kate and Sam Adventures.
        2. Might it be possible to imagine how our stories could change if we were able to avoid some of the needless conflicts we bring on each other?  What stories could still be told?  Struggles to solve other problems, such as diseases or natural disasters?  Quests to learn more about the depths of space, oceans, or history?  What else can you think of?  Now let go of your preconceptions, open your mind, ask “What if…?” and tell me now: What else can you think of?

[Pictures: Hope, rubber block print by AEGN, 2015;

Blessing, rubber block print by AEGN, 2021;

Keep Dancing, rubber block print by AEGN, 2022.]

No comments: