On November 3rd, 2016, the Westboro Baptist Church protested outside the Julliard School, a world-renowned institute for the arts. The daughter of the Westboro Baptist Church founder attended the protest and said that Julliard’s teachers, “have taught this nation proud sin.” They carried signs demonizing the LGBT community and calling for an end to the “vanity of the art.”
Their hatred was drowned out by hundreds of music students, from Julliard to LaGuardia Arts High School and beyond, singing. Playing. Creating.
On November 18th, Mike Pence was booed by audience members after seeing Hamilton: An American Musical. The cast quieted the booing and issued the following statement, “We, sir, are the diverse America who are alarmed and anxious that your new Administration will not protect us, our planet, our children, our parents, or defend us and uphold our inalienable rights.” They further pleaded that this show would inspire the future vice president to remember all Americans during the next four years and what this presidency will mean for their families, on stage and off.
Their plea was met with demands to apologize and Twitter rampages by the best of bullies, he who I will not name.
In New York City, I inhabited an artist’s bubble. I am still growing up in Chelsea, where the High Line was my backyard and gallery visits were playdates. I attended the Fame School, where it was abnormal for a lunch to go by without song or dance, where Halloween was the ultimate creativity contest, where the stairwells were constantly filled with song, or maybe “sin” as the Westboro Baptist Church might call it. Art felt effortless and unquestionable and infinite.
In Silicon Valley, I am reminded how hard art is. How it is sneered or laughed at. How it is a creative buffer to a heavy CS schedule. How easily it gets pushed aside or pushed down or forgotten. Art feels like a struggle, a constant act of defiance, a raised eyebrow.
Of course, these instances, are not the first time art or artists have come under attack or criticism, and I would hate for it to be the last. I don’t exactly know if I am here to say anything that better and wiser people haven’t already said. I don’t think I am up to the task, artistically, to create what I imagine filling this paper or your computer screen or this moment of your day. But, if the past week, or month, or life has taught me anything, it is that art depends on others and I am depending on you, my fellow artists, to hear me and help me.
First, a reminder. Art is not vain. Art is not useless. Art is proud and deserves to be. Art is admiration in excess, but I like to call it wonder. Art is culture. Art is how we process the world and attempt to understand it. Art is remembering the past and creating for the future. Art is not just for the self, it is not just therapeutic; it can be transcendent. It is expansive. It is life affirming and world changing. It is an escape. It is a welcome home. It is applause. It is silence.
Second, a small plea. Make good art. Make bad art. Make any art. Now, but not more than ever. Always. The world needs you, needs your words, needs your painting, needs your voice, to remember, in the most visceral way, what this moment in the world is like. There will be tears and it will be hard and you will want to give up. This is the second part of the plea. Help one another. Critique one another. Teach each other what it means to try and fail. To feel lost and loved all at once. Feel things fully, breath deeply, create meaningfully.
Third, a thank you. To the people in my life who create mercilessly. To the teachers who remind me every day how difficult this work is but would never tell me to walk away. To the friends who remind me why I do what I try to do. To the friends who do it with me. Even to the people who hate us and yell at us and ridicule us. To you for reading some of my ramblings. To you, who felt the flame or cleaned off the long-forgotten paint brushes or imagined.
The world needs you. Art needs you.
Image from here.