I can’t imagine there are any happy artists today; the result of the US election seems like a vote against knowledge, discovery and compassion and I’m not sure art can exist without those qualities. It may seem like it’s not worth writing, or worth trying anything creative in the face of such bleak realities, but the truth is, art has never been more important.
I know it feels like the world is getting worse and there’s nothing you can do, but there is. If you need a reminder on the value of art and of maintaining your self-belief, I can’t think of a better way to hear this message than to listen to Maya Angelou:
Keep on rising. You are not powerless. Of course, we don’t all have political influence and we can’t change the world alone but we can work together and support organisations that can. The morning after the last UK election I increased my monthly donation to the charity Arts Emergency because they promote education for all and the transformative opportunities art can offer young people. Today, the first thing I did on hearing the news was donate to Citizen Radio and The Freedom of the Press Foundation because I feel that the lack of an independent, unbiased media is somewhere close to the root of the problem and right now they need support. The same is true of organisations fighting for equality on so many fronts; it genuinely scares me how we seem to be moving backwards in the fight for equal rights and we need to halt that sooner rather than later. The same goes for environmental concerns, which just got a lot more concerning. Choose whatever speaks most to you, but put your money where your mouth is and if you have no money, give your time, spread the word. Do something.
People with no voice right now will need yours – and they will need you to listen. This is very important and ultimately, it’s why artists aren’t powerless – to create anything, you must have an open heart, you need to listen to others and have empathy. In short, you must engage with the world. Carry on writing your poem or your novel, carry on singing your song or painting your canvas. Carry on facing the world with a kindness and generosity. It’s not blind optimism, it’s not wishy washy liberalism and it’s not an artist in an ivory tower. It takes a backbone of steel to look at the world today and return nothing but love and creativity. If you listened to Maya Angelou and it helped you, you know exactly why you must keep trying. I recommend Rebecca Solnit’s book Hope in the Dark which makes the case for optimism in a realistic and inspiring way.
I chose Horace’s words as the title of this blog on purpose because I’m a Latin nerd – it’s well known that the phrase means “don’t despair” but the reason it’s particularly appropriate right now is because of the way it’s constructed, not as an order but as something that in grammatical terms is called “the gerundive of obligation” which implies a compulsion and a moral force to the required action. It is your duty as an artist to never, ever despair. Stand for what you believe in, support the organisations that share your values, speak up for justice… and then get yourself back to work.