May 23rd, 2009

david bowie black tie - sosostris2012

What my job is not.

I've been thinking lately about my job as an artist, and what it is and isn't.

This is going to get a little theoretical, and sound a little arrogant, but bear with me: I'm not asserting that I'm perfectly competent at this job, or that it's an easy one. I'm just saying what I think my job is.

My job as an artist is to make you squirm.

My job as an artist is not to console you or distract you from the things in the world that make you unhappy. That's my job as an entertainer, and often it's in direct conflict with my job as an artist--but conflict is what makes narratives interesting, so that's okay. My job as an artist is not to give you characters and stories you care about and invest in and want to spend time with. That's my job as a storyteller, which supports and informs my job as an artist.

My job as an artist is not to propagandize for anyone or anything, because that would mean I have the answers, and my job as an artist is to point out that there are no total answers and no moral certainties and that the ones we think we have mostly are broken and flawed and kind of suck. My job as an artist is not to rubber-stamp anybody's belief system, including my own.

My job as an artist is to keep hanging out the reminders that it's always more complicated, that the human condition is fraught with contradictions and compromises and crippling choices, that we make mistakes--sometimes terrible mistakes--and that's okay, but also that we are capable of so much more than we aspire to.

My job as an artist is also to stand on the corner with a sign and say "Have you looked at this? This is pretty fucked up, right here." My job as an artist is to point out that ideologies are flawed, that absolutes are nonsense, that cultural expectations are relative, and that we are also deceived by the lies we sell our children.

But I also know that my job as an artist is to point out that we human creatures have as enormous a capacity for kindness and compassion as we do for creating misery, because that thing--it's always more complicated--isn't one-sided.

If you want somebody to tell you what you want to hear, to hew to a party line, or to spread some kind of gospel, you probably want some other kind of artist. If you want somebody to proselytize an ideology, you definitely want some other kind of artist.

I am not here to comfort you.

My job as an artist is to tell you what I see, not what I wish I saw. My job is to tell as much of the truth about the world as my tiny flawed inadequate little brain and art can encompass. And the truth--even the tiny, fragmentary, self-contradictory truths that are all I have to offer--the truth will make you squirm.

It makes me squirm too, and flinch, and want to go bury myself in puppies. The truth is like that.

I know this job is hard. Better women than me have complained of how hard it is. I'm not even saying I'm particularly good at it, but that's okay, because the job is too hard to do well.

But I know what the job is. And what it is not.

To be an artist means never to avert one's eyes.
                                --Akira Kurosawa