Guernica by Pablo Picasso, 1937
Do turbulent times create an environment that produces great art?
“Art has always [forced people to confront a dark reality], and it is a really powerful space for expressing anger,” said Genevieve Gaignard, a photographer and installation artist, in an interview for the Huffington Post. “If you’re not the type to protest on the streets or don’t have the words to express your outrage, your voice can still be heard through your art.”
Liberty Leading the People by Eugene Delacroix, 1830
Plenty of examples back her up. Picasso painted Guernica, probably the most famous anti-war painting ever, only two months after the bombing of that Spanish town during the Spanish Civil War. Eugene Delacroix painted Liberty Leading the People to commemorate the July Revolution of 1830, which toppled King Charles X of France—a painting the French government thought was too inflammatory in its glorification of liberty, so they bought it and removed it from public view. It was roughly in that same period that Victor Hugo wrote the novels Les Misérables and The Hunchback of Notre-Dame.
And of course, the theory is that the artist has to starve in a garret while writing or painting the masterpiece, because genius flowers only when it’s drunk, high, unhappy, destitute, or emotionally scarred.
But many artists would prefer not to suffer. In an interview in The Atlantic, the Danish writer Dorthe Nors, author of Karate Chop and other novels, said such ideas are self-destructive, and glamorizing suffering is dangerous. “We can separate artistic pain, the experience of feeling deeply, from leading a painful life,” she said. It’s because art is painful that she strives to keep an even keel, because the work itself is hard enough.
Are we entering turbulent times—times when the political climate could lead to a diminished quality of life for people, including artists, who might be marginalized? Some artists think so. They’re worried about it—and they’re wondering what they can do to stay on an even keel and produce their work.
John Scalzi is a novelist (winner of the Hugo award) and “critic at large” for the Los Angeles Times who feels “knocked for a loop” by the election. He wrote a 10-point plan for how to create art in turbulent times. Actually, it’s good advice even for peaceful times. It starts with “Acknowledge it’s bad, and other facts of life” and ends with “Remember: Your work matters.” For the full article, go here.
Are the times turbulent for you? And are you finding the time and bandwidth to create anyway?