The Artist’s Obligation

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Listen to the Voiceless
Adapted from a photo by Sarah Joy

It’s not inspiring or beautiful, at least not in a conventional way. It’s not what anyone wants art to be about. It ultimately serves a greater purpose, but in a way that feels as draining as it feels empowering.

What is the obligation of the artist to speak to real issues, especially where suffering, injustice and oppression are concerned?

Speaking candidly, I don’t know that artists are obligated, per se. If you don’t feel pulled toward an issue, I see no reason to force yourself to address it. Conversely, if you do feel pulled toward an issue but recognize that it’ll be tough to tackle, that’s not a great reason to avoid it.

In my own writing, I sometimes gravitate toward what I know is controversial ground. Maybe not to the world at large, but to some of the people in my own life, at the very least. In those cases, I’d rather be hated for telling the truth than loved for lying.

And, yeah. I know. Not everyone perceives failure to tell the whole truth as deception. I’m too honest for my own good.

I’m also reminded of this quote, which I’ve adapted to better suit the times:

“The only thing necessary for the triumph

of evil is for good [people] to do nothing.”

– Edmund Burke

I can’t deal with every evil in the world. My art can’t address every injustice. I don’t have the time or energy or (frankly) arrogance to even try.

But when an injustice pulls at me, and when it feels like it fits something I’m working on, I run with it. I assume that’s Vye tugging on my sleeve, urging me to use my gift, feeble though it may be, to attempt something good.

That’s what I do.

What about you? Do you think artists should take a stand? If so, to what degree? And when?

*Originally published on armartinwriter.com.