Making Art While Everything Burns

I have a schedule that is supposed to help me build positive work habits, so that I get my priority projects done. You know the theory: just make sure you put one foot in front of the other every day and take tiny steps toward your goals, so that the sheer enjoyment of the process of making art develops into a habit with its own momentum. Before long, you get to where you set out to go. Today is listed as “recording and guitar practice”, I have well-defined, small, next tasks to do and everything I need to do them, but I haven’t done any.

Right now, I have a chronic case of music producer’s block and I’m not entirely sure why. I’m finding it hard to show up and just do, without thinking, until my muse/inspiration joins me, some time into the process. There is no doubt I need to explore why that might be, to break this bad habit, but I confess I don’t have good answers at the moment. It might have something to do with what I am about to write and writing about it might help me work through it. We’ll see. I also have a chronic back ache, which isn’t helping.

So, instead of producing music, today, I find myself writing this blog post instead. I should have written it yesterday, but I didn’t show up for my scheduled writing time. Bad habit.

Here’s what’s bugging me. We’re seeing increasing evidence that points to the fact that we’re experiencing the very first signs of climate collapse. There are unprecedented droughts, desertification, wildfires, heatwaves, floods, storms and all kinds of climate records being broken. Abnormal has become the new normal, yet nobody is doing anything like enough to recognise and attempt to solve the problem. We’re all just blundering forward. There is, instead, an appreciable ascendancy of Fascism across the globe, as if coordinated by dark forces (maybe it is, maybe it isn’t). Our politicians blatantly lie to us and manipulate, aided and abetted by the media. Much of our democracy is being eroded by concerted campaigns, funded by plutocrats using offshore, tax-dodged, dark money. We can’t find out who is pulling the strings, making the donations or what they even want. There is no transparency.

In many metropolitan areas, the water is no longer safe to drink. Our oceans are saturated with plastic pollution, which enters the food chain and bio-accumulates and amplifies in the top predators (that would be us). Species extinction has seen decimation of our wildlife and the trend is accelerating. Our food, grown in exhausted, depleted soils, is lacking in vital nutrients, including the vitamins and minerals we need for good health. The global food production system is skewed towards providing foodstuffs that are increasingly recognised as being the root cause of a plethora of chronic and fatal human and animal diseases. What we eat doesn’t nourish us and worse, actually contributes to disability and premature demise. This food production system is built on unstable, fragile mono-cultures, so coupled with climate collapse, it means that future food supplies are by no means secure. The bees and insects that pollinate our crops and feed our wildlife are fast disappearing, eradicated by commercial pesticides. We drench our produce in glyphosate, which the manufacturer’s own internal company documents confirm is highly carcinogenic and may be the cause of many other grave health issues.

Our collective mental health has come under assault as never before, thanks to extreme, neoliberal, predatory capitalism, rampant inequality, stagnant real wages (for several generations) and an ideology of placing efficiency, profit and competition above all other concerns, while mental health services have dwindled and disappeared. We accept that there is one rule for the rich and another for the poor, but fail to recognise and deal with the implications of it. Hope is scarce.

It increasingly feels like we are ruled by an oligarch kleptocracy, which has scant regard for the plight of ordinary people, except as a resource to be milked and exploited. It’s an abusive relationship. We exist under a dark cloud of blanket surveillance and corporate-controlled censorship, as if deference to a small group of ecocidal, omnicidal psychopaths, their ambitions, plans and ideas is something we ought to content ourselves with unquestioningly. We might think they’re maniacs, hell bent on maniacal schemes, but we are never permitted to say so, or even think so. The Surveillance Capitalism manifesto appears to be, “You may only hear what we permit you to hear. You may only see what we permit you to see. What you hear, we hear. What you see, we see. Feel what we want you to feel, do as we want you to do, be as we want you to be.”

Against our better judgement and self-preservation instincts, we participate in and support endless wars, for corporate profit. Neoliberalism has created Neofeudalism instead. Along with this, we have witnessed a staggering disinvestment in people. Their potential lies fallow.

This is the question I keep returning to, without finding an answer: What should you do? Should you continue to make art, or do something else to try to stop the catastrophe unfolding before us?

They say you shouldn’t run from a situation you don’t like, but toward a motivating, exciting future that you envisage and want to reach. If where you want to reach is set against an ambient backdrop of a world nobody sane would want to aspire to inhabit, what do you do for motivation? Is establishing your own little island of blissful tranquillity, through immersion in your art practice, enough to overcome the certain knowledge that people are needlessly suffering and dying, to maintain deluded ideologies?

How can you even focus on making art, when everything is on fire and burning?

If you can focus on making art, does that mean you’re complacent? Are you a Nero figure, fiddling while Rome burns? Does it mean you don’t care, so therefore tacitly approve of what’s happening? What does focusing on your art say about your humanity, when it is obvious that you enjoy a rare and special privilege in being able to do art at all?

Should art be a comforting distraction, for maker and audience alike? Should making your art raise awareness and mobilise action against the fires? Would art be effective? Should you abandon art and become a front-line activist? Would that work?

Does art even matter, when everything is immolating?

Alison Croggon, the contemporary Australian poet, playwright, fantasy novelist, and librettist, says, “An artist’s job is to look at the world they live in, to think about it, to open possibility, to create connections. Art’s very existence is an argument against the atomising alienation that is the primary feature of late capitalism. Art opens contemplative spaces that allow us to step outside the routine structures that shape how we see the world. It reaches out of the diminishing present, connecting the past and the future”

Making art in the face of the forces of regress and rampant, predatory capitalism takes steely determination and almost bloody-minded focus. We do it to keep hope in a brighter, better future alive. It is the last vestige of connection to all that is civilised and worthwhile. Art is our daily reminder that there are things worth living for that are far more important than and superior to profit, efficiency and productivity. Real growth is growth of the spirit, our aesthetic senses and the intellect, not growth of the bank balance. While we’re surrounded by the wasteful disintegration of all that makes life thrive, creation is a revolutionary act.

These are deep, dark questions for all artists. They are tests of your soul.

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About tropicaltheartist

You can find out more about me here: https://michaeltopic.wordpress.com/. There aren’t many people that exist in that conjunction of art, design, science and engineering, but this is where I live. I am an artist, a musician, a designer, a creator, a scientist, a technologist, an innovator and an engineer and I have a genuine, deep passion for each field. Most importantly, I am able to see the connections and similarities between each field of intellectual endeavour and apply the lessons I learn in one discipline to my other disciplines. To me, they are all part of the same continuum of creativity. I write about what I know, through my blogs, in the hope that something I write will resonate with a reader and help them enjoy their own creative life more fully. I am, in summary, a highly creative individual, but with the ability to get things done efficiently. Not all of these skills are valued by the world at large, but I am who I am and this is me. The opinions stated here are my own and not necessarily the opinion or position of my employer.
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