Art and Freedom

The best and perhaps saddest thing I learned during the conversations that followed my last two posts is that speaking one’s truth in the market-driven cultural landscape is now considered an “act of courage.” That is to say, if the things someone says are unpopular in one way or another, it can cost them money!

Gay actors closet themselves (and find big cults to procure them fake wives) for fear of what disclosure would do to their box office draw. Singers who challenge the Bush regime’s interventionist Iraq policies get harassed by angry conservatives. All this translates into an environment where the risk for political, religious, or artistic freedom is calculated mostly in dollars. “What will it do to my career?”

I received many emails of encouragement over the past two weeks. The most common concern they was how speaking honestly and openly about the global crises caused by belief in obsolete religious myths could endanger my book sales or speaking opportunities at schools. And while I’m honored by the concern, I’m saddened we live in a world where such concerns are considered real. Even the reviewers of my last book were surprised I “dared” to speak honestly about the corporations I was covering! Of course, that’s because they thought it would cost me money in the form of lost speeches or whatever. (I get, now: successful speakers only tell businesses the things they want to hear! Too late for me, I guess.)

All this is my introduction to a couple of inspirational paragraphs an ITP student of mine, artist Heather Dewey-Hagborg wrote in her final paper, which took the form of a manifesto on Art and Freedom. It’s both a terrific condensation of many of the ideas about renaissance and immediacy that I’ve been pushing for a decade, now, as well as an entirely original articulation of the need to be creative – as well as to be loud, critical, and aggressive about it.

“We have to get over the last thirty years of disillusionment and realize that it is time to get back to work; it is time for action. We have been programmed to be passive, to believe attempts at societal change are futile, to feel consumed in the infinite layers of meaning and implications of our every gesture. We are so consumed by the implications of our actions we fail to make them. It is time to move on. It is time to refuse to be pushed into positions of infinite regress; time to refuse the art market, refuse artificial distinctions between disciplines and genres, refuse to be classified, packaged, advertised, bought and sold. It is time to be overtly critical, time to be loud and angry and aggressive. It is time to bring our work into the open. The end product is of no importance. It is the creative process and the fact of sharing this process with everyone else, destroying its mysteriousness, destroying its capitalist value that is vital.

“Creation is simply a mode of existence. Human beings are essentially creative but our creativity is stifled by the false authority of education and media that tell us how to think, tell us our impulses are incorrect or invalid or futile. We must approach creativity as a collaborative process of mutual exploration. There is no end goal, no ideas of progress or success or failure. There is only motion, interaction, curiosity and play. The idea is not to “change the world” ; the world is in a constant state of change. The idea is to direct this change in a way that allows human beings to recognize the reality of their freedom, creativity, and collaboration in the whole process.”