Seven reasons why I make art (and why you should, too)
I’ve been making a conscious effort to put out more poems and short stories of increasing quality alongside my usual output of essays on politics and the media. Here are seven reasons why:
1. There are things you can say with art that you can’t say otherwise.
In the 1957 obscenity trial over the publication of the book Howl and Other Poems, English professor Mark Schorer was called to the stand and asked to explain the meaning of lines from Allen Ginsberg’s masterpiece.
“Sir, you can’t translate poetry into prose,” Schorer replied to the prosecution. “That’s why it’s poetry.”
There is a whole spectrum of possible attacks that we can make upon the oppression machine which go largely unutilized because most revolutionary-minded voices focus solely on facts, statistics and linear arguments in conventional prose to get their point across. They do this largely because the narrative matrix which holds the oppression machine in place predominantly uses prose for its propaganda; they push back against the enemy using the same weapons they see the enemy using. But the only reason the propagandists focus on prose is because they are completely artless servants of an agenda which has no spirit. Those fighting the machine are unencumbered by such limitations, and it’s foolish not to fully exploit the weakness of our enemy using that advantage.
Films and plays get panned as preachy and ham-fisted when they try to ram a specific message down the throats of their audience, and understandably so: if someone wants to say a specific thing, they can just say it, using words. They don’t need to be wasting people’s time with a sermon dressed up as art, especially when those people are hoping to have some ineffable nugget planted deep within some tender, hidden part of themselves in the way that only art can do.
With art you can get underneath the narrative matrix and speak to an unguarded part of an audience that hasn’t been armored up by layers of establishment narrative. Good art changes you, leaves you seeing the world a bit different in ways you can’t really articulate and for reasons you can’t explain. It opens people’s eyes to seeing things they couldn’t see before, which is exactly what we need in this battle.
2. Art often has a bigger impact.
In his manifesto, the Christchurch attacker spent paragraphs explaining how people don’t listen to charts and statistics, they respond to emotion and to memes. He explained this to show his fellow white supremacists how to circulate their ideology online in a way that will take hold and spread.
And the thing is, he’s absolutely right. A quick glance at any of the more popular leftist websites will show you that dreary sermons are the bread and butter of most revolutionary-minded content created by the true left today, and that approach doesn’t bloody work. White supremacists like the guy who just murdered dozens of Muslim worshippers the other day understand this, while people with the most wholesome ideology largely do not. We ignore this at our own peril.
It is every activist’s duty to be loud, shiny, and interesting. It isn’t enough to stand on the moral high ground and have all the correct facts and figures; do those things, certainly, but if you’re going to speak you’ve got to do it in a way that will go in. You can do this with humor, you can do it with memes, and you can do it with art. If you’re not going to use your voice to advance your healthy ideology in a way that will actually get heard, get circulated, and plant seeds and take root, then you may as well remain silent. Don’t be like those boring, artless academic types who think their rightness compensates for the fact that they’re unreadable. Shine bright.
3. Art lets you seize the means of creating culture.
“And what’s really important is, I call it, the felt presence of direct experience, which is a fancy term which just simply means we have to stop consuming our culture. We have to create culture. Don’t watch TV, don’t read magazines, don’t even listen to NPR. Create your own roadshow.”
~ Terence McKenna
The Grayzone Project‘s Ben Norton published an article the other day titled “Hollywood’s ‘Captain Marvel’ Blockbuster Is Blatant US Military Propaganda”, detailing the Pentagon’s involvement in the making and marketing of that film and others. With a few rare exceptions, Hollywood’s output can be described as one long advertisement for capitalist culture and the US war machine, and it comprises a huge percentage of the art consumed in mainstream consciousness.
Rulers used to use religion to shape culture in a way that advantages the powerful. Now, they use Hollywood.
The Pentagon and the CIA, just like hate groups, understand the reality that politics is downstream from culture. If they can shape our values, ideals and expression, they can shape the political landscape of the future.
And so can we. If everyone who wants to do away with the status quo began making art, any kind of art, of as high quality as possible and getting it seen/heard by as many eyes/ears as possible, the social engineers would be unable to streamline culture toward maintaining the status quo. It would be a grassroots artistic revolution, with true democracy of stories and true diversity instead of a bunch of actors of various ethnicities reciting scripted Pentagon propaganda.
Nobody can create great art in every possible medium, but pretty much everyone can create decent art in at least one. This doesn’t just mean paintings and poems; it can be memes, graffiti, tapestries, street performance, limericks (there’s a dearth of quality revolutionary limerick writers at the moment), anything. Whatever kind of art puts you “in the zone” where you lose track of time immersed in creation, go there. Stay with it, make it as high quality as possible, get it witnessed by as many people as possible, and start planting seeds in people’s consciousness. Not for you, but for the world.
4. Art forces us to solve problems using our imagination.
If you’ve got an image in your head, and you want to figure out how to get that image onto a canvas, you won’t be able to use your left hemisphere linguistic thinky brain to do it. This forces you to train yourself to come at a problem from outside the linear, narrative-based thought stream which dominates conventional consciousness, which is important, because that’s the mental process which got our species into this situation in the first place.
We need new ideas. Lots and lots of very, very new ideas. Our species is in big trouble, and we’re not going to get out of this mess with ideas which arise from the same looping thought patterns which got us into it. If there is an exit ramp on the highway toward dystopia and human extinction, it’s going to come from a completely unexpected direction, because it won’t be born of the cognitive patterning which got us here. Opening yourself up to inspiration and learning how to solve problems with your mind’s eye creates one more human on this planet who is capable of spotting that exit ramp.
Once you’ve started creating art and mastering the skill of generating inspired ideas from outside the conditioned mental patterns, start putting those ideas out there. If you don’t know how to implement them, share them with people who do, or put them out into public attention to see if anyone wants to use it. Don’t worry about patents and copyrights; if you’ve got an idea that would benefit the world, don’t clutch it tight for months or years hoping you can find a way to profit from it. Get it out into the world as quickly as possible so your medicine can get into the bloodstream and come up with new ideas. There’s no limit to the number of ideas you can have, so if you stop your idea flow by holding onto one idea it’s like you’re constipating the whole process. Get your ideas out and into public consciousness as quickly as possible so you can come up with new ones, and if you see people copying them a few months later, be happy. I see ideas I’ve put out there getting reused all the time and it’s one of my favorite things about this job; I never say anything about it because I don’t want people to be shy about using those ideas. Don’t be a constipated idea hoarder.
5. Art can be useful in untangling your own personal narratives.
Creating art that will impact people necessarily means confronting parts of yourself you might have otherwise left in the dark. In order to make good art, you’ve got to get real with yourself. You’ve got to confront the nuts and bolts of your experience and give it a platform on which to speak. Creating the best art you are capable of creating on a regular basis will mean becoming more aware of yourself and what makes you tick, what stories you believe about yourself and the world but have left pulling your strings in subconsciousness instead of looking at and examining them.
Getting real with your own inner narratives gives you an understanding of how mental narrative works, and how it can be manipulated. Since narrative manipulation is the primary tool of the ruling class which benefits from the status quo, understanding it is an important part of defeating the social engineers. A regular discipline of creating art from your depths can give you that understanding.
6. Making art forces you to see the beauty in the world.
As we discussed a while back, a constant practice of looking for opportunities to experience beauty can punch a huge hole in the narrative matrix and free your mind from the manipulations of the powerful. If you are regularly engaged in facilitating the emergence of beautiful creations, you’ll find yourself in that space naturally. The narrative-fixated mind is incapable of perceiving the beauty in life as it moves by, but the artist disengages from that fixation and perceives that beauty out of necessity. The less plugged in you are to the narrative matrix of the propagandists, the better art you’ll make, and a more effective warrior against the machine you’ll become.
7. Making art lessens the grip of your inner critic.
Those who spend the most time criticizing the art of others never make art themselves, and those who make the greatest art don’t spend their time craning their necks peering around and criticizing other artists. These two mindsets are mutually exclusive. You can’t create great beauty if you allow your criticizing mind to dominate your consciousness, because if you do your attempts to allow something inspired to bubble up from below the talking, judging narrative loops will be hijacked by dead ideas about shoulds and shouldn’ts. And before you know it you’re desperately trying to scrape together enough self-confidence to create a work that looks like something which accords to those inner shoulds and shouldn’ts, which comes out like a flat, artless computer program, if at all. For the same reasons you can’t translate poetry into prose, a critic’s mindset is incapable of making art.
If you make art you’ll necessarily have to lessen the grip of your inner critic, which will have a few knock-on benefits. Firstly, life is a lot more pleasant without that asshole yammering in your mind’s ear all day about how inadequate you are and what clothes you should have worn instead. Secondly, it makes you less critical of other artists, allowing them more space to do the thing you’re trying to do. Third, without a bunch of should and oughts controlling your thought process you’re a lot more free to construct a worldview that is entirely disinterested in what everyone else believes. It gives you the sense of entitlement necessary to be an original thinker, whose mind is informed by truth rather than by what everyone else around you happens to be saying.
Put aside your inner critic and reach for that paintbrush, pen, guitar or whatever your weapon is, and start making art. Worst case scenario you give an authentic place within you a voice during your time on this planet and make some pretty things while you’re here. Best case scenario you help seize the means of creating culture from the powerful manipulators and help open up some eyes.