The past few weeks have invited a lot questions about the future, one of the most important of these being, what will our future look like in four years? Some days we want to hide in our snuggie tails and pretend we live under the sea; most days we feel a need to put our best protest gear on and march. With these feelings of anxiety over the future swirling, I have heard many artist friends questioning whether it is a good idea to continue to pursue a career in the arts or further their artistic education. Some even questioned what the point of art or entertainment is in the face of a possible erosion of democratic norms. Can an artist make a living? Is art necessary? Should we quit?
The answer to that question is, no! Whatever you do, do not quit. Art is necessary now more than ever. Whatever your medium is, if you have something to express that speaks to people, we need it. Art is a right, not a privilege.
Art serves many purposes beyond entertainment. It helps us to be more empathetic toward one another and is crucial to the peace and prosperity of our republic. Art unleashes our curiosity and makes us question our culture and society, which is probably why this current administration finds art, and especially artists, so dangerous.
Rumors have been swirling over the last few weeks that the new administration hopes to entirely eliminate The National Endowment of the Arts, The National Endowment for the Humanities, and privatize the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. (By the way, cultural programs only take up .02 percent of national spending.)
Although most artists and arts organizations do not completely depend on federal funding to produce their work, these cuts are still scary. And if this administration has its way and continues to dismantle the media, who will hold them accountable?
Needless to say, pursuing art today takes bravery, especially if you are a performing artist. Art forms in which the media is not one’s body, such as painting or writing, allows the artist the opportunity to use a pen name or alternate persona. If your body is your instrument, you are exposed.
If the fear of being exposed as a performance artist grips you momentarily, take some inspiration from other badass performing artists who are making important relevant art in some not-so-democratic countries. One of my favorite artist/activist groups is the Belarus Free Theater. The Belarus Free Theater is an independent theater group based in Belarus, where they mount productions that question their government and campaign for human rights and basic artistic freedom. I had the opportunity to see a production of King Lear by the Belarus Free Theater in Chicago last year. It was one of the best, saddest, most absurd productions of the work that I have ever seen in my life.
Their work has been so controversial in their home country that many of their members have been arrested just for performing. In fact, the company is not recognized as a professional theater in Belarus. They have no official offices, rehearsal space, or performance venue. They rehearse in people’s living rooms, and perform their work for free in various spaces.
Luckily for us in the US, we do not have to go to such extreme measures. Because we still have a strong democracy, many popular artists, including some of the most prominent playwrights of our time, are using their pen to tackle real social issues.
Take Pulitzer prize-winning playwright Quiara Alegria Hudes, of In the Heights fame. Her most recent musical, Miss You Like Hell, is an exploration of “how a wall can separate American families.” It is a heartbreaking story many immigrant families have experienced and will continue to experience firsthand. It centers around a free-spirited immigrant mother going on a road trip with her teenage American-born daughter.
Another story that focuses on immigrants is the still very popular Hamilton, a play that not only preserves our history, but also reminds us that our country was founded by immigrants.
That is not to say that all theatrical or performing works of art have to be political. Art, especially theatrical art, is about the human spirit and the stories we tell.
Which brings me to the most important reason why we you shouldn’t quit art: We need your story! It does not matter if your story is about being queer, a woman, a woman of color, a queer woman of color, or any other number of identities you feel the urge to write, dance, paint, or (fill in the blank) about. We understand each other through the stories we tell. Throughout human history, there are two stories told: the stories by the victors and the stories by the artists. The victors’ stories are and will always be questionable, but the artists' stories will be the true stories because they are, and were, told by the people living in society.
The world will make those of us in the arts feel like we are trying to save the world with a purple crayon. When that feeling of doubt creeps in remember the words of author Toni Morrison:
“I know the world is bruised and bleeding, and though it is important not to ignore its pain, it is also critical to refuse to succumb to its malevolence.”
Keep making your art. Keep training in your art, keep making good art, and share it with the world.
Top photo: Pussy Riot by Igor Muhkin, via Wikimedia Commons
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Isabel Dieppa is a writer and actor. She is a part of the performance duo Of This World in Chicago, IL. Her interests lie in science, art, and history. Past writing includes interning for the Chicago Field Museum ECCO program, the national theater blog HOWLROUND, music reviews for UR Chicago, and in a former life was a beat reporter for the Indiana Daily Student. She loves archaeology, kitties, and dancing. The next big adventure may include an archaeological dig in Peru. Follow her on twitter @isabelsdieppa