One of the top events up for discussion this week is the speech a certain actress gave at a certain awards ceremony in which she shared her opinions of a certain political figure.
Some applaud her words, some disagree with them. Some say that was neither the time nor the place for such a rant, and some defend her right to free speech. This comes shortly after the controversy of a few weeks ago wherein the cast of a particular play spoke out against another political figure who happened to be a member of their audience. There were many of the same reactions in that situation, varying between degrees of full support and agreement to anger and vitriol at not only the words but the method used to deliver them.
Most people, at least in principle, defend the right to free speech. But many, when that very freedom of speech counters their own beliefs and ideologies, think the exercising of it is somehow inappropriate.
And many, many people, on every side of any political debate, think politics should be left out of the arts. A public platform is not an acceptable place to air one’s political opinions (unless, of course, they are in agreement with those opinions, in which case, carry on!).
The interesting thing about this debate, however, is that it denies the very nature of the arts. Art is political.
I don’t mean political in the sense of American politics or government necessarily, but in the sense of having to do with people and their ideologies and belief systems and worldviews.
The whole point of art is to evoke emotion. Art exists to make us feel.
And emotion doesn’t exist in a vacuum.
Joy, sadness, hope, empathy, anger, lust, love, disgust–there are as many options as there are emotions, and an infinite number of combinations of those emotions.
Van Gogh’s paintings are bright and wild and imaginative, and when we look at them we are filled with a sense of wonder and fantasy. Through his paintings, we see a world that is interesting and complex.
Picasso’s paintings are strange and twisted, and give us a view inside ourselves, a look beneath the polished surface to the turmoil within.
Michaelangelo makes us long to attain something higher than ourselves.
The same is true of other forms of art.
Music, even without lyrics (and sometimes especially without lyrics) can evoke excitement or longing, joy or melancholy, and everything in between.
Books, movies, and other forms of storytelling draw us into a world where we experience the lives of others. We feel the emotions the characters feel. We want them to succeed or fail based on how we perceive them.
And art, in all its forms, reflects the worldview of the artist. No matter how unbiased we try to be, now empathetic toward “the other side,” what we truly believe, what we truly feel deep inside, will be reflected in our art.
When Beethoven was a young man, he fell in love with one of his piano students, but her father wouldn’t let them court, because he didn’t want his daughter to marry someone with no real job and no prospects. Beethoven wrote Moonlight Sonata for her, and when you listen to it, you can feel the depth of longing, of lost love, in the notes.
George R. R. Martin is famous for killing off beloved characters, and he is quoted as saying it is because the heroes don’t always win, and to pretend they do is a lie. The bad guys always win because they’re ruthless enough to destroy anyone who stands in their way, and the good guys put forth a lot of effort and in the end die anyway. Martin has created a beautiful tapestry of characters and setting and plot, an amazing work of art, that reflects his ideology that the ultimate evil is mankind and the world is, essentially, hopeless.
By contrast, Star Wars: Rogue One, while heartwrenching because the heroes die, sends a pervading message of hope, a sense that there is something worth fighting for, that there is real evil in the universe, but that evil, ultimately, can be defeated by good.
And just as the artist’s worldview is reflected in his art, each individual interprets art based on his own worldview. And that is one reason why art is so important. It expands our worldviews, forces us to see things from other perspectives, to understand things from the other side, to think and feel things that otherwise we wouldn’t.
There is truth in the ideologies of both the Game of Thrones series and the Star Wars series. The good guys don’t always win. Good doesn’t always triumph over evil. Some things are futile and fruitless. But sometimes good does win. Sometimes the greater good is worth the sacrifice.Sometimes hope is the ultimate weapon.
I tend to lean more toward a Rogue One ideology, that ultimately good is more powerful than evil, and that there are things worth sacrificing for. So, while I disagree with Martin’s ultimate conclusion, that everything is terrible, I am a better person for having read his works. Feeling that depth of despair forces me to think about why I disagree, why I feel differently, and to articulate those feelings.
Books like Thomas Hardy’s novels, George Orwell’s novels, and Lord of the Flies paint a depressing picture of the nature of man and society. They present a particular view of the world and of humans, but I, in turn, interpret that in light of my belief in God. Having read them, I understand a little more about the depravity human nature and appreciate a little more the redemptive work of Jesus Christ.
Each of us, as artists, have a responsibility to reflect truth to the best of our ability. You may disagree with the conclusions of others, just as they will likely disagree with you, but all of us will grow in our understanding of one another by being exposed to a variety of art.
And so, when situations come up where actors, artists, musicians, and others use their public platform to grandstand their beliefs, I come down on the side of freedom of speech. I may or may not agree with what they have to say. It may make me angry, it may make me happy, it may make me sad, and so on, but that’s okay.
That’s what art is for.