If you are the sort of artist that makes truth telling a part of your raison d’être, you’ll be regularly presenting your audience with uncomfortable, unavoidable facts. The truth is like that. It’s often unpalatable. It has the horrible property of being indisputable too, if you present it with honesty and good, evidential data. The truth is like a bad smell.
Perhaps your motivation is to cause your audience to take some positive action to turn things around. After all, people can’t change the world if they are unaware of what’s wrong with it and of how it might be changed. Your art might be in the service of cutting through the propaganda and illusions that wash over us all, in a daily tsunami of manipulation and falsehood. You might be trying to expose what’s behind the pretty lies and empty promises. You might want to reveal the true motivations of those that pretend otherwise.
Here’s the dilemma, though. Your audience is probably going to be resistant to hearing the inconvenient truths that you are conveying through your art. It might spoil their mood and ruin their day.
This is a very real problem. If people choose deliberate incuriosity and put the maintenance of a superficially happy, optimistic, cheerful mood above all else, including facing facts and actually dealing with them, for the good of all, what are you to do? The populace, at large, has been indoctrinated from cradle to grave to value their personal feelings of happiness and wellbeing as paramount, even when it’s based on wilfully ignoring the urgent and pressing, sometimes terrible issues that must be solved in order to preserve that feeling of happiness and wellbeing for all, in the long term. Ironically, people would rather keep that forced smile planted on their faces today, while the whole world goes to hell in a handcart, rather than ensure they actually live in a happy world, where smiles are inevitable, through their actions to put things right. Presumably, they will wake to the devastation one day in the future, when it’s too late to change things. How will their mood be then?
Perhaps your audience believes that somebody else will take action or that the truths you expose through your art will just go away of their own accord. Maybe they believe the enemy to be you, the artist, for placing such distasteful reality into their cosy, blissfully unaware bubbles of existence. Maybe you are the messenger they wish to shoot.
One artistic strategy is to dress up the horrible, desperate, confronting truth in sugar coating. You can use the devices of colour, instrumentation, arrangement, harmony, production techniques and so on to present the truth in an artwork so attractive and seductive, that the audience only notices the truth at the last moment, as the medicine is going down.
Another strategy is to make anti-propaganda. Tell the counter myths. Prepare your audience to face the truth with courage and conviction. Help them bear the burden of their responsibilities as citizens and to each other. Make your art’s message be that being awake and aware is far preferable to being anaesthetised, solitary, uncaring and stubbornly in denial, just to keep a smile on your face. They owe knowing the truth to themselves and those they love.
The truth might spoil your day, but not as much as tolerating the lies eventually will. Nobody can keep a brave face up forever, when things are genuinely falling apart. At some point, everybody needs to pitch in and help solve the problems that imperil us all.
It is the artist’s work to show people how… even if it spoils their day.