This is a speculative, ‘what if?’ kind of letter. I just wanted to ask this question about our focus as artists.
So, here goes! The ‘what if’ is “What if artists focused their work on seeking justice first?”
I’ve heard many theologians, philosophers and communications people talk about ‘relevance’, about linking our work to modern trends and themes and that this will somehow help us connect with our audience. However, that seems not to be very forward thinking, for in trying to deal with the ‘now’ we will as artists be out of step with it very soon: as popular cultural time passes so quickly. We may find our work strangely outdated and even, dare I say it, nostalgic.
Justice on the other hand seems like one of those eternal quests which adventurers embark upon (Greek style!) But I’m not trying to turn us into Argonauts, but in terms of my own work, I am thinking of focusing on questions of human rights and social injustice…and then seeing what is added to my life. There’s evidence to suggest there is a correlation between seeking justice first and foremost for others and then seeing how this adds good things to our own lives. This then is not a craving for relevance, but for authenticity and credibility.
For my artistic journey, it means that no matter what the genre is, I will be writing about such issues. Yes, even when the new novel is a ‘supernatural’ thriller with a touch of horror. (Bosch meets Brueghel on the crossroads of the contemporary political landscape!) Yes, it’s very evocative stuff for an electrician from Hartlepool to be writing.
With any art form, it’s not about having the right technique, as my good friend and mentor Andrei Tarkovsky has written,
“My Name Is Sorrow” Copyright 2012, Geoff Crawford. Produced exclusively for Handy Cloud Productions.
“What passes for art today is for the most part fiction, for it is a fallacy to suppose that method can become the meaning of and aim of art. Nonetheless, most modern artists spend their time self-indulgently demonstrating method.” [Sculpting in Time, p96]
This shift in focus is not about finding the right technique or method, but connecting with the injustices of our day. Nor is it about art for art’s sake, but about embodying through our lives, a style of life which according to Jacques Ellul will throw “…off the dead weight of social and political institutions [and dare I say it, artistic institutions] which are gradually crushing the life out of our present civilisation.” [‘Presence au monde moderne’ 1989, p39]
He goes on to say that if we are not revolutionary then we are not being faithful to our calling (as artists). Now, I always balk at the word ‘revolutionary’, but here Ellul isn’t talking about violent political revolution, but a genuine revolution, not forced or coerced, but cultivated by our lifestyle, which should be focused on justice.
Perhaps this should be a future theme for a Tree House evening, when we could look at this from the point of view of the different mediums we represent; be it film, poetry, visual art (sculpture, landscape painting, cartoons, the nude), literature and dance, to name but a few!)
Where does the passion for justice lay in our heart? How could we represent this in our work?