Thursday, July 15, 2010

On Artists

This is an old post I made waaay back in the day on my LJ, but I still sorta like it:

While reading the Pulitzer Prize winner The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (I haven't yet discovered what's so wondrous about his life even though I am more than halfway through the novel. Maybe it'll all come together at the end? Let's hope so. Sorry for digressing.), the author (Junot Diaz) made an interesting point. He noted:

"What is it with Dictators and Writers, anyway? Since before the infamous Caesar-Ovid war they've had beef. Like the Fantastic Four and Galactus, like Foreman and Ali, Morrison and Crouch, Sammy and Sergio, they seemed destined to be eternally linked in the Halls of Battle. Rushdie claims that tyrants and scribblers are natural antagonists, but I think that's too simple; it lets writers off pretty easy. Dictators, in my opinion, just know competition when they see it. Same with writers. Like, after all, recognizes like." (Paraphrased)

Hmm. Interesting stuff. But, I think it's a little bit different than what Diaz notes (a good portion of his novel takes place in dictator-ruled DR, so that's probably his own personal paradigm). I don't think it's so specific as he makes it out to be.

See, it's not just's writers, painters, musicians, other's artists. And it's not just dictators they protest bitterly against. It's not just government. My revised statement is,

Artists have always had issues with authority, and authority figures have always been irked by artists.

It only hit me, really, because my sister remarked (jokingly) that the government was going to lock me up for being an anarchist. I started to argue, then realized: Just about every major storyline I've toyed with committing to paper has a strong theme in defying government authority. The graphic novel I'll publish some day? Looking past government propaganda and lies to see the ugly truth behind how far people will go to stay in power. The 3-part novel series? The horrors of having a monarchy overthrown "for the people" a religious group which exterminates and crushes all opposition. Jeez.

And, it's not like I'm anti-government or anything, either. Really, I'm not. I'm a communitarian, for God's sake (not to be confused with communist. In a nutshell: heavy taxes in exchange for universal healthcare, regulation on industries and private interests (which, let's face it, can do whatever the fuck they want without consequence as long as they have enough money), free education, and other social welfare programs. Just look at how happy the Danes are! They figured it out! Yeah, I'm a crazy liberal. Bite me.)! I mean, I am way more distrustful of giant corporations and CEOs than I am of politicians*.

Why? Well, a lot of artists (not every, obviously) have ADHD (myself included). One big trait that runs in this spectrum disorder is a tendency to challenge authority. Not because we want anarchy, but because we hold on to our ideals (namely: justice, integrity, and human rights) with a death grip, which is why we question: Is what we're doing right? Is it working? What should we change? How can we make it better?

It's not hard to figure out why authority figures would find this grating.

Humans are not welcoming to change. It's an inbuilt thing. We like what we are comfortable with. We like to stay in our comfort zone. Do what is known to work. Don't take unnecessary risks. Seems sensible enough, right? I feel that this is especially true with authority figures: Do what works, stick to what people (ie constituents) are comfortable and happy with (ie not complaining about)...even if there are serious flaws in the system.

ADHDers are a different breed altogether. We perceive things a little differently -- society, concepts, the world. Everything. And because we see things differently, we make connections that others can't. We see possibilities where others don't. And because we are usually highly creative, intelligent, passionate and daring, we are ready and willing to take risks. Look at any ADHD book. I'm not writing anything that hasn't been written before. I'm just plugging it into a different concept (if you don't see what I mean by that, hopefully you will soon. Bear with me.).

In short, ADHDers -- artists -- are constantly questioning things, especially how the world is run. How can we fix this? How can we make the world a better place? How can we help more people? These are hard questions that involve, inevitably, policy change.

Change is bad because change is risky. Change can lose votes. Change is a direct threat to your authority because through change you can lose your authority. If people demand change, it could be most inconvenient for you and what you've worked to set up for yourself. The power and authority you worked so hard to get.

Authorities resist change. Artists insist on it. This wouldn't be a problem if artists weren't so...well...stubborn. Seriously, we're crazy headstrong. And the more they tell us to Kindly shut the fuck up, you're creating a disturbance, the worse we get.

It's a matter of paradigm, really. To those in power, we're spreading unease and doubt, upsetting people for no reason at all, and now they're demanding things they never even mentioned before. What the hell?
To artists, we're publicly criticizing because We see how things are run, We think it's immoral and unethical, and Because we feel so strongly about it, we feel the need to express it -- through essays, through paintings, through musical pieces, through documentaries. Isn't that what art is about, after all? Expression? We express what we feel is the truth. We can't help it if others either begin to realize what's wrong, or feel the same way and are now inspired to start pestering their leaders about it. Whoops.

Art is about expression. Art is about creation. Art is about values -- through your art, you show to others what you believe in, how you see the world. Art can criticize, expose, mock, and challenge -- all in subtle, indirect ways. Art is a pretty fucking powerful tool, especially because art has the power to move people.

Authority figures are threatened by artists. Artists are suspicious of authority figures.
Authority figures work with what is. Artists see what could be.
Both groups can sway the public.
Both groups have the power to change society.
Like, after all, recognizes like.

*Think about it. Who can afford the best lobbyists? Who can, through top-notch lobbyists influence public policy? Who controls the economy, and thus has a lot of weight to throw around? Who has all the money, and consequently, all the power? Cities, states, and even 3rd World Nations will waive all sorts of laws -- usually environmental -- to attract large industries, which naturally pick whichever area gives them the most leeway and wiggle room make PROFITPROFITPROFIT. Oh, and who has the power to enforce restrictions that keep businesses from abusing their power (custom jet planes, anyone?)? That's right -- the government.

Obviously this isn't true for each and every individual politician, businessperson, and artist. But it's a generalization I've noticed, a pattern. Stereotypes exist for a reason, after all.

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