It is difficult to turn in any direction in American life and not see any mass shock or despair over the outcomes of the recent presidential elections. While it is key to continue to move through the stages of grief and be where we are, yet there is another alternative as we try to understand what this all means as offered through art as a vehicle for our release.
“In dark times will there be singing?” Bertolt Brecht
The Vietnam War was a dark time that birthed a number of visual, written, and lyrical reactions from many artists. One of the most well known among these responses was John Lennon’s Imagine infused with the famous lines,
“Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion, too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace… You…”
In 2015, Kyle Abraham, a choreographer with the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, debuted the first part of Untitled America (a 3-part movement piece developed over a period of two years). Abraham’s work was a direct response to the prison system’s impact on black families in America.
Let me clarify my main point of using these examples. I am not saying that it must be the composers or songwriters, choreographers, poets, or any of the other shades of artistic witnesses among us who have the only license or skill to respond to the grief, dishevelement, and unrest within and around us. In fact, these are all sign posts (along with many others not mentioned here) and a more elaborate way of speaking to the famous lines offered by German playwright and poet Bertolt Brecht,
“In the dark times
Will there also be singing?
Yes, there will also be singing.
About the dark times.”
These current times, like many other passing moments in history, often stir the creative spirits of a sleeping populace.
And sometimes, the creativity and art that is awakened is in service to teaching us how to become better architects of our mundane lives. When I woke up the morning after the election results after a few hours of sleep, I remembered Brecth’s poetic lines while thinking about a way to move forward with the rest of my week given the emotional pulse in the United States.
I was also reminded of an intersecting moment between national wounds, darkness, and art-making from this summer. On a Sunday afternoon, my partner and I journeyed to his family cabin in the woods with the hope of making art. It was not unusual except on this particular day, we were stuck inside due to the rain while our ears were held hostage by the latest news commentary about yet another black life taken by a police officer. This time, the brutal act was captured on video for all to witness. My partner was crafting a piece in response to all of this, “I don’t know how to make art today” while I shifted uncomfortably in my skin and chair pondering about how these dark times would impact all of us.
Historically speaking, tragedy is not a new phenomenon. However, the moments of human trauma around the world seems to be accessible in such a way that we can all instantly witness the things that we may feel too powerless to control or address. During that moment within that rainy summer day and in the middle of the shock I was witnessing the day after the presidential elections, I wrote. By that Friday, my partner and I decided that we needed to purchase watercolor paints and brushes. We stood hand in hand as he gave me a crash course in painting with watercolors. The rest of the day was spent painting, writing, and putting the finishing touches on a dinner party we were planning with a few friends.
In reflecting on our post-election response, the words of Pablo Picasso and Elliot Eisner seemed to provide some additional wisdom:
“There are painters who transform the sun to a yellow spot, but there are others who, with the help of their art and their intelligence, transform a yellow spot into sun.” ~Pablo Picasso
“Art is literacy of the heart” ~Elliot Eisner
Perhaps what we will be doing is transforming this dark spot into words, movement, living and our being with each other as we move through the pain of it all.
Maybe this darkness will be the canvas that we have all needed to become the catalyst for unzipping our creative souls.
And if we allow art to soothe what is hurting right now, we might just become literate and fluent in ways of loving, living, creating, and being.