Thursday, January 8, 2015

Artistic Expression And Charlie Hebdo

Here’s a contrary post because contrary seems to be my middle name. And I’m not even old yet.

Every major news item inevitably carries along in its wake the knee jerk reactions of those who will never follow up on their espoused convictions. Sure, they may go to a candlelight vigil or more likely share something on Facebook, but whatever event triggers their reaction will be quickly forgotten when the next trigger-inducing event occurs.

I’m of course referring to the tragedy of the shooting in Paris yesterday. And I’m of course writing without fully understanding the situation since, while not yet old, I’m beginning to feel that if I wait to know everything I’ll never write anything at all.

But I know people died because of a cartoon that insulted Mohamed. I’ve seen it, it was horrible. Of course, in the grand scheme of things, nowhere near as horrible as killing people because of a cartoon.

It’s not really the events in Paris I wish to talk about, but the reactions that people have had to it. The general consensus is to rally around the artists who are brave enough to go out on a limb and say things at a risk to themselves. I guess that’s a good thing, I guess as an artist I’d like to know I can speak my mind without worrying if I’m putting my life on the line (I have three novels published, so I’m going to go and call myself an artist).

In the end, though, I believe that what an artist wants much more than support is understanding. When I make a statement, when I reach down into the deepest parts of me, I want to believe that what I have to say is universal. Not because I think so much of my abilities or myself, I just want to know that my perception of the world, stripped of as many biases as I can rid myself of, is a fairly accurate one. I want to believe that if I squint really hard I can get a pretty good sense of what it is I’m seeing. And if I can use art to convey accurately what it is I see, and if people respond by saying “yes, I see it too”, then I have performed a useful service.

But the last thing in the world I want is anyone’s support that wasn’t duly earned. I don’t want you to stick up for what I have to say because I am an “artist”. I don’t believe I have some God-given right to say or do whatever the hell I want, rather I have an obligation to say what I believe is true regardless of the price I will pay.

When I saw a Facebook friend share a cartoon of the artist in question, a very horrible picture of the prophet Mohamed, I initially had the urge to share it as a sign that my voice, that the voices of others, would not be silenced by the violent acts of extremists. But then I thought of the many millions of people I would insult, peaceful human beings who have nothing to do with ISIS or acts of terrorism. I can scarcely imagine what many of my Christian friends would say if such a picture of Jesus were shown to them. I can’t say I would ever create something like that, but if I thought it was my best way of expressing truth, I guess I would feel obligated.

So my point is perhaps this: if you wish to support the artists who have died for the expression of their art, then get to know and understand the art they have created. Artists are really no different from soldiers, in that they are willing to spill their blood for their cause. But the ultimate merit of the artist, like the soldier, is what they sacrifice for.

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