Here’s a weird thing. It’s the acknowledged role of the artist to express the ordinarily inexpressible – to put expressions of what people are thinking, but are unable to articulate for themselves, into the world. If you can do such a thing, then the message resonates. If it resonates, it takes on a greater power. The artist’s task is all about expressing what people are thinking and wish they could express, in such a way that people concur, join in and spread the word.
Sometimes, the artist and the members of the society he or she lives in can easily see that their world has so much wrong with it and that there are so many potentially workable solutions that aren’t even being considered, they can no longer contain their rage. It’s a point of realisation that the present isn’t perfect and that the future won’t even be acceptable, unless somebody clearly articulates the problem and some potential solutions. That rage builds up to the point where it cannot be placated or ignored any longer. You can no longer paddle in the shallows on the shore of the ocean of triviality. It compels action.
That’s all well and good. The artist has the skills to write the books, paint the pictures, make the documentaries, create the music and influence the masses to see the issues and to plant the seeds of hope and answers in the minds of the many. That’s what artists are supposed to be good at.
What happens, though, when an artist reaches the point of understanding that things are unacceptable and that there are alternatives waiting to be adopted, but they lack the energy or motivation to tell the story? What if they can see that making people listen is hard work and thankless? What if they know that their message will not be initially welcomed and that it may even cause them to be subjected to persecution and isolation? What do you do? Where do you even start?
The gulf between what you can see and what others believe as articles of faith might be a deep, yawning chasm. It could be an abyss. There might be so many things that need to change; you don’t know how to tackle them all, or even in which order. The scale of the conflict alone might dissuade you from even trying.
On the one hand, you cannot let things lie. Your conscience won’t let you. On the other hand, you’re realistic enough to understand the scale of the mountain facing you. You are going to have to work really hard, think very clearly and over a long period of time, produce works of the finest quality you have ever produced and do all of this while there is still time to put things right. You are in a race, but it’s just you, your mortality, your one short life and your finite stamina and energy, pitted against entrenched forces, tradition, wilful ignorance and violent, dishonest, oppressive maintainers of the status quo. How do you move forward?
Biting it off a piece at a time might be a way to approach it, but in releasing a half formed idea, or something that has limited impact, it just dilutes your point of view. People ask, “is this what you’re so worked up about? Is this it?” If your works of art are piecemeal and impotent, compared to the rage you feel inside, it just gives people a reason to disregard your concerns. You have to make a big bang.
Let’s say that there is a minimum threshold above which your work will resonate with people. How do you produce a work of such power and clarity, that it reaches that threshold, even though some are dismissive? I see people like Russell Brand attempting, I believe sincerely, to light a fire under society, to get people to think and change for the better, but for all the doubters and knockers to subsequently come out of the woodwork and swarm around him, belittling and minimising the importance of his ideas. At least they reacted. But has he done enough? Patently, he has not.
People are so wedded to their status quo and blinded to the possibility that anything might be wrong (even though they sense it intuitively), that they cannot even approach a dissenting thought, let alone have one of their own. So, if an artist is full of dissent, due to an inability to contain their rage any longer, how do they do something with enough impact that it overcomes this entrenched psychological inertia of those he is trying to reach? How does the vehicle through which the artist vents achieve enough momentum to become unstoppable?
I don’t have the answer. All I know is that such artists are in for a lot of work and will have to fight their circumstances and their own fear, inertia, exhaustion and aversion to confrontation, to work steadily and stealthily toward their big release. It might take a while and yet for all the time they take, things are getting worse and they know it. There is an imperative to produce quickly, but an equal imperative not to rush the work and release a fizzer.
It’s not an enviable task. People would much rather you stayed silent and suppressed your rage. People would rather you just accepted what is and forgot all about seeing what’s wrong and wanting what’s better. In short, most people would rather you went back to sleep and stopped bothering them. They’re content to mouth their orthodoxies back at you, like trained parrots, without any semblance of introspection or examination of what they’re saying against a standard of truth. It’s better for everyone if you put your rage back into its bottle and go back to producing safe, unremarkable works of art (or none at all).
On the other hand, if you value your integrity and want to be a great artist, because purpose and mastery are what motivate you, then you have no choice but to strive for that moment of impactful, lucid clarity, which will influence many, with a devastating power, through art of a scale and quality that you may never have produced before. You might not even know if you are capable of such a feat, but you have no choice but to try.
If you are an artist trying to express an uncontainable, but as yet inexpressible rage, I don’t envy you at all. It can’t be a nice place to be. You know you have no choice but to articulate your rage, but you struggle to find your voice fast enough and with enough power and depth, to have your say. It’s daunting and depressing. It’s the essence of the artist’s struggle.
All you can put your faith in is the fact that you’re not alone. If you do a good job, with your art, other people will take courage and comfort from it. They will join the chorus. Their voices will be in unison with yours and change will begin. A revolution of the mind requires ideas of such purity that they become our shared truths. Your part is to put the ideas, through your work, out there.