I’ve always been fascinated by that moment when a new idea takes hold and suddenly the world is forever and irrevocably changed. Actually, it often isn’t a moment, it’s more like a diffuse wave in time and space, but whereas the old certainties may have held for centuries, suddenly they are consigned to history and there’s no turning back. It has been called “the tipping point”. What intrigues me most is why the idea matured at that moment in time, not earlier or later. Even more fascinating is how fragile the orthodoxies and axioms of the previous time turn out to be in practice. They can be swept away at a stroke.
Artists are nothing if not adaptable and resilient, in the main. We seem to have a capacity to accommodate paradigm shifts and changes of perspective, with greater facility. Perhaps it’s our artistic training. Perhaps we gravitate toward art because we’re wired this way. In any case, artists have a proud tradition of being able to accommodate the new, while moving on from the old.
One of the great historical revolutions is taking place around us at this very moment. It’s not a revolution of bloody, violent, confrontation, however. It’s a revolution in the mind. People are beginning to think new thoughts about the world they live in and, having thought these ideas, things can never go back to how they were ever again. I’m speaking, of course, about the global Occupy movement. Suddenly, the thought has entered millions of people’s heads that the old economic, political, media and other established systems are no longer tenable. Something else is needed.
There are always those that attempt to restore order and who try to shore up the old regime, which they perhaps benefit enormously from. That attempt is too late. The ideas in those millions of people’s heads cannot be forgotten, regardless of the brutality and injustice meted out to them. It’s not the sort of idea that you can pepper-spray, kettle, taser or bludgeon away. Those that don’t realise this are doomed to prolong the agony of inevitable change. The old regime has already been swept away, despite the persistent vestiges. It has been swept away because the ninety nine percent no longer believe in it. It’s gone because of their non-participation in it.
Last night, on twitter, there was open mirth at how the Occupy movement was being reported by the BBC. In best doublespeak fashion, the Beeb stated that the Occupy movement was in protest against “alleged corporate greed”, as if it were still in doubt. When an idea like that takes hold, attempts to use the tried and tested methods of media manipulation look transparent and silly. Of course there is incontrovertible evidence of corporate greed and on a grand and unimaginable scale. For the media establishment to suggest otherwise immediately casts them as part of the problem, not the solution. That, apparently, is their artistic choice.
The apologists for the existing system claim that if the money system collapses, we’ll all be sorry, because we need their money to function. What that ignores is the fact that the Occupy movement has organized leaderless working groups, which are doing real, valuable, productive work, with no money changing hands. No medium of exchange turned out to be needed at all. Is that a model for wider society? It could be.
Let’s say that this idea of non participation in the existing corrupt systems takes root and stands firm from this day forth. As an artist, what does that mean to you personally? How will you organize your life and work so that it continues, as the old certainties are swept away? If you cater to wealthy patrons through commissions, what happens when/if those go away? How do you obtain materials when the money system fails? How is your work relevant to people that no longer adhere to the previous economic orthodoxies? What will be your place, as an artist, in this new world? Will you articulate the new ideas, through your work, advance those new ideas further, or will you sit on the sidelines like a bystander? Will you try to create works of nostalgic recollection of the previous “golden age” instead?
Whatever you decide to do, the need to make a choice has been thrust upon you, make no mistake about it. If you think you can continue to paint landscapes of bygone rural England or write love songs you could be right, but you might be an anachronism. You are required to re-evaluate your art and what your art says, when the perspective of so many people so radically changes. You have to because we are all connected, despite the now outdated attempts of some to pretend otherwise.
An artist that makes good decisions, reflecting their time and tide, can reach the pinnacle of artistic recognition. Picasso’s Guernica springs to mind. Which artists will make those seminal pieces of work that exactly capture and articulate the Zeitgeist, forever associating them with this change? It will be interesting to see what happens.
We live in interesting times.