development work

Facing the Dark Suffering of the World (Part 4)

So the creative impulse somehow births in the midst of suffering. Perhaps it is the impotence to “do” anything about the overwhelming issues. That lack leads to a need for some outlet. The creative world provides a much needed venue.

Is it a cop-out? Let’s save that question. What is born in the trenches of that true compassion (for others, and believe it or not, for ourselves) is art. It is a way to combat the evils, to slay the giant drug lords, to make some real impact.

Artists will soon face the very strange dilemma of what to do with these art pieces, created in the trenches of longing. What purpose can they serve and how worthwhile is their exploitation to the world? Can it stand for such art to be sold?

Considering its beginnings, birthed out of a desire and incompetence to help in more practical ways, it seems all the sillier to somehow profit off such art. Yet if such creating truly is a calling and truly actually helps, why wouldn’t we?

Perhaps in a perfect world art was never intended to be sold. Perhaps artists were and are necessarily to remain, like Franciscan Monks, poor. Perhaps there is an identification with the poor and suffering because it is true for them.

That may be to some degree true. But “success” does not necessitate neglect of such things. There are examples of artists who have become commercially successful and yet stay very focused and involved in their communities and with the poor.

Those artists in some ways give their followers a path. It comes down to an age old question: is the goal of development work really to develop OR is it simply to be with and care for? In other words, do we want the poor to remain such?

If the goal is development and actually equipping the poor than the artist must learn how to do this as well. The artist must become entrepreneur and insist his art become a valuable commodity. This is a desire we must learn to explore and validate.

There is always a tension in development work between the almost romance of poverty (assumes sort of an accept things how they are approach) and the struggle to “get out.” What are we getting out to? Whose world wins as the goal?

That begs the question: is success in the financial sense a particular culture’s world? Or is truly open to all, free of any ethnic preferences? And if it is open to all, do some have natural proclivities and cultural boosts to such a way of thinking and being?

How can we make it ok to succeed? How can we make it guilt-free to advance? Is there a way to get past the cultural bondage of scarcity? If I win, you lose. Is there a way to trust advancement, to see it as not soul-defying?

To get to this we must wrestle down the concept of “the world” offered by many religions. “The world” is seen as the system of success whereby people slowly decay into acquiring machines and lose their ability to be compassionate.

Art as War (Part 2)

Some will undoubtedly see art as compromise, escape from the brutal reality of true relief and development work. Can anything actually replace the fierce truth of holding the hands of those who are dying, forgotten and forsaken by their people?

Is anything as real as that? Perhaps not. And as immensely important as it is, the workers are few, and the harvest overwhelming. So the logic of pulling one off the line so to speak to pursue art seems more than mildly narcissistic and crude.

In the face of brutal reality how is pursuing artistic impulse a legitimate way to be “part of the solution/cure?” Artistic vision is by nature very isolating, very consuming, and very persistent. Once given credence, it all but devours one’s life.

But, if artistic vision is truly born in the cauldron of compassion, in the tensions of brutal truth and what could be, that vision can literally birth justice bearing fruit. The art literally bears the longing, the hope, the suffering, the pleading.

That sort of art carries with it, embodies, incarnates the very Spirit of God. It moves people beyond flimsy, mild intentions, or philanthropic charity. It profoundly messes with their vision of reality. It draws them into the suffering. It penetrates their comfort.

This vision of art as agitator, as literal voice of the voiceless, can be over-bearing, unseemly, aggressive, almost obtrusive, but it does not have to be. There is still style and tact; if executed well, the average person initially won’t know it is wrought with such. The real tension with artistic vision often comes in the marketing. In other words, creating a compelling, prophetic piece of art in one’s basement is one thing. It has merit in its own right. But how does one get an audience for such a piece of art?

We’d laugh to think of the Biblical prophets on the street corners today with no serious audience. In the days of Isaiah and Jeremiah the words of the prophets, though not always heeded, were heard all the way to the throne of the kings. In other words, the message had an audience. It may sound silly or unremarkable, but the difference between Jeremiah and the guy on the corner today may be context, or audience. One was called into a significant role, one was not really.

Can we think of making art without an audience? Can art be made in isolation of an audience? Will compelling art make a way for itself? Will it wriggle itself into a place where it can infect a group of people with holy discontent?

How can we free art to be an agent of change? How can we release it without being sucked into a system of selfish ambition that tends to favor things that are flattering to the system? Does ambition for our art to succeed necessarily taint the art?

Can art be experienced as more than promotion for the artist? Yes. Yes. Yes. If done well the art will take both artist in creating and audience in receiving well beyond the realm of cash flow. The business reality will be overshadowed by the eternal presence.

This, after all, is sort of the goal of art: to transport artist & audience beyond cause and effect, to transcend transaction, to on a soul level actually connect deeply to what is important and eternal. If not this, we have not art but mere temporary distraction.