What are Artists to do now?

I’m going to start 2017 with a confession: I have lost my faith in art. With everything that’s going on, putting a pencil to paper, or a brush stroke on a canvas—or whatever your medium—seems like a frivolous activity. Why create something in the reclusiveness of your studio only to then show it in the sanctity of art spaces to other like-minded people? How is that creating the change that is so desperately needed now?

This idea of “desperate change” or “making an impact” seems to be filling the air inside of my own personal echo chamber. We all need to “take a stance,” “rise up,” and be “agents of change.” We need to end hunger, work against climate change, and stop the massacre that is happening in the Middle East. So let’s make a collage! Let’s take some National Geographic magazines and glue a bunch of polar bears on a lonely iceberg drifting in the ocean—maybe that will get everyone’s attention when it is shown at the hip XYZ gallery space that calls itself “progressive” and holds a group growl at the opening in honor of the polar bears. The real impact will happen when it actually sells. At $300, it will put $150 in my pocket, enough to buy more National Geographicmagazines and glue because there seems to be a market for this polar bear stuff.

But enough with the attitude: ours is a real predicament: What are artists to do now? What weapons do we have in our arsenal that can initiate change? Others are searching for it: Hyperallergic held Art after Trump, a two-day event of two-minute responses. You can read some of them here. Pratt held a post-election artist discussion where one of the prompts was “Is art capable of contributing to the immediate, tangible change that we are now even more aware is so urgently needed?”

The butterfly effect refers to the idea that small changes can have a big, outwardly resonating impact. We shouldn’t be thinking of a linear cause and effect, because sometimes you can’t trace everything back to one or two simple decisions. But the complex mixing and sums of our everyday decisions do matter—collectively they have the power to alter the shape of things to come.

Yes, we should sign petitions, we should gather at city buildings in protest, but we shouldn’t let our lust for instant gratification get the best of us. The pursuit of change can be frustrating, and there will be setbacks. But with each small change we commit to in our daily lives we must believe that we are altering the course of the future—if not for us then for generations to follow.

So how am I going to regain my faith in art and the art world in 2017? Through a small but consistent and ongoing gesture: by being present. No grandiose actions are needed. There will be change slowly bubbling up to the surface—the only thing constant is change—and I want to be there when it happens. Someone somewhere will do something or make something great. I want to be in the front row to applaud it: art needs (and often deserves) feeback and an audience. The sign at a middle school in my neighborhood reads “80% of life is just showing up” and this will be my motto for the New Year. We have to show up because it’s too simple to just say ‘screw it’, and the populist forces who want art to go away would love it if we all just stopped showing up.

As you can see from Glasstire’s event listings, there are lots of things happening all over this state. “GO SEE SOME ART” is what we say every week at the end of our Top 5 countdown video. Since I work at Glasstire, and probably because of it, I have to say I’ve never paid a lot of attention to the phrase—it’s just the gimmicky quip we say smilingly into the camera, or put on our promotional koozies. But those four simple words might be the key to regaining our faith in art and in this crazy world.

Support your local art scene—the people and spaces that encourage conversation. Attend an opening. Maybe bring a friend who has never been. Be there for an artist nervously talking about their work. And if you like their work, tell them! Stay curious. Cram into theaters and lecture halls, into row houses and warehouses to listen to someone discuss something new with conviction. And if you can, make genuine art that matters to you—not to the gallerists or collectors or grant reviewers. And have some fun while you’re at it. I think we all need a good laugh.

We need to refocus on where we can make a difference, and have faith that in the end these small, intimate interactions will affect the larger outcome for the better. If 80% of life is just showing up then I’m going to be there.

Here’s to an active 2017. Go see some art. I know I will.

published January 17, 2017 on Glasstire.com