Margaret Atwood has an excellent article up at The Nation about the chill which is already sweeping over the artistic community at large. Atwood is no stranger to dystopian scenarios, but thankfully, those were fiction. We may well be facing an artistic dystopia very soon.
Of what use is art? It’s a question often asked in societies where money is the prime measure of worth, usually by people who do not understand art—and therefore dislike it and the artists who make it. Now, however, the question is being posed by artists themselves.
For American writers and other artists, there’s a distinct chill in the air. Strongmen have a well-earned reputation for suppression and for demanding fawning tributes: “Suck up or shut up” has been their rule. During the Cold War, many writers, filmmakers, and playwrights received visits from the FBI on suspicion of “un-American activities.” Will that history be repeated? Will self-censorship set in? Could we be entering an age of samizdat in the United States, with manuscripts circulating secretly because publishing them would mean inviting reprisal? That sounds extreme, but considering America’s own history—and the wave of authoritarian governments sweeping the globe—it’s not out of the question.
In the face of such uncertainties and fears, the creative communities of the United States are nervously urging one another not to surrender without a fight: Don’t give up! Write your book! Make your art!
But what to write or make? Fifty years from now, what will be said about the art and writing of this era?
In the short run, perhaps all we can expect from artists is only what we have always expected. As once-solid certainties crumble, it may be enough to cultivate your own artistic garden—to do what you can as well as you can for as long as you can do it; to create alternate worlds that offer both temporary escapes and moments of insight; to open windows in the given world that allow us to see outside it.
With the Trump era upon us, it’s the artists and writers who can remind us, in times of crisis or panic, that each one of us is more than just a vote, a statistic. Lives may be deformed by politics—and many certainly have been—but we are not, finally, the sum of our politicians. Throughout history, it has been hope for artistic work that expresses, for this time and place, as powerfully and eloquently as possible, what it is to be human.
This is a do not miss article. Outstanding, and highly recommended.