Never Apologize for Your Art (Part 1)
Never apologize for your art. My sister gave me a button years ago that said that and it’s stayed with me over the years (the thought as well as the button). But I realize that this can fall into two basic categories. One is for artists whose subject matter might be controversial and the other is for artists who are just starting out and whose amateur work might be ridiculed or dismissed altogether. For Part 1 of this subject, I’ll address the artists with controversial works first.
Art by basic definition is a visual expression by means of drawing, painting, graphic design, sculpting, etc. One could argue very easily that performing arts falls into the same category, with the expression being performed through music or dance, for example. Taking that a step further, and therefore the reason why you should not apologize, is the definition for expression… “the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power.”
Freedom of Speech
In the United States, we are quick to express our rights to freedom of speech (or expression). Because what is speech? Is it not a verbal way of expressing ourselves? Yes, sometimes it can get people into trouble. There may be serious backlash to the things people say. In this day and age, the most popular platform for freedom of speech is social media. Some people take greater comfort in vocalizing their thoughts while hiding behind the relative safety of a computer screen.
Throughout the years, artists the world over have created their art despite the persecution they might face. During the Renaissance, painters such as Domenico, Da Vinci, and Riccio (to name a few)…often painted or sculpted what their employers (namely, the church or the wealthy) wanted them to, but slipped in controversial or Pagan symbolism into their works despite what the pious thought. Things haven’t changed much in that regard. What’s also held true throughout the centuries, is that if an artist takes the time to use their art to get a point across, it’s generally something they feel strongly about.
A Freedom, yes. But Not Without Responsibility.
The point is, if art is a form of visual expression, and we have the freedom to express ourselves, then why shouldn’t we? However, whether you’re an artist or not, you do have a responsibility for your expression. If you say or do something that is slanderous, for example, you could be held liable. And, as easily as a celebrity or politician can get a bunch of flak for saying or tweeting what’s on their mind, so too can artists come under fire for the things they choose to create and publicize. So, just as you don’t necessarily apologize for everything that flies out of your mouth, neither should you apologize for expressing yourself artistically.
Look at the world today and compare it to the world of centuries past. What do you see? I see the repeating trends of civilizations the world over. Certain leaders come to power and no one questions it, despite the fact that many of these persons in power were cruel dictators. Fear is a powerful motivator to stay compliant. For a time, people would stay quiet and keep a low profile hoping to not get caught up in the abuse. Eventually, people get sick of it and speak out. Many did not live to tell the tale. But spurred on by one or two who were vocal enough, villages would band together and then neighboring villages and so on, until there were enough to revolt. The king is overthrown and a new king (hopefully a benevolent one) takes over. Change takes place.
It doesn’t happen unless someone points out the thing that’s wrong. Expressing yourself vocally is one thing. Creating a work of art which visually stimulates viewers into awareness about a matter is powerful. It’s why the church censored works of art during the Renaissance. It’s why the Nazi’s hated and confiscated Modern Art so much…it spoke out against war and undermined their power.
The only difference between then and now is that artists today have the power of social media right at their fingertips. An artist feels strongly about an issue, creates a work of art which expresses those strong feelings, and then posts it to social media. Maybe the image goes viral. If it does, in nearly the blink of an eye, thousands upon thousands…millions even…will see the image, like, share, etc. They will either agree with the artist or disagree and leave a comment stating their thoughts. The artist has potentially created a movement for change, or added to the momentum of a change already underway.
Never apologize for your art. Never apologize for being the voice for change.
So, how do you approach a project that deals with a subject matter you feel strongly about, but might strike a nerve with your public? First, assume that it probably will and brace yourself for it. Seriously. Secondly, remember that you have the same freedom of speech that everyone else does. That being said, whatever you say or create, go into it with your eyes wide open and you don’t have to apologize, but…be prepared to take the heat if it comes to that.
Never Apologize For Your Art (Part 2) will post 09/27/17.