Why We Need Art in the Age of Trump
Updated: May 4, 2019
We need art more than ever right now. Trump is trying to build walls and tear families apart. His administration and party are actively undermining human rights and inciting violence. His policies are hitting immigrants, low-income people, LGBTQ folks, people of color, and women especially hard, making many fear for their safety or even their lives. There was another shooting this week, a near weekly event now. Around the world, xenophobia, discrimination, bias, and violence are surging. In short, the world is a hot mess. So how do we handle it? And, even more importantly, how do we change it? With art, of course.
Throughout history, when things have gotten tough, we've turned to art, be it music, film/TV, literature, performance or visual art. It's how we express our anguish and frustration, how
we make sense of complex issues, and how we mobilize.
Art connects people, which is more important than ever right now. It helps us find common ground. Art helps us understand each other. It builds empathy, something we all desperately need. This study found that people who read frequently are kinder and more empathetic. They learn about other points of view and ways of living, which makes them more understanding. The president would do well to pick up a book or two.
Art inspires change. What would the Vietnam protest movement have been without music? Or the Czech Velvet Revolution without underground literature? Or any revolution without music, powerful images, propaganda? The Rennaissance without paintings and sculptures?
The resistance is borne of art. Like revolutions throughout time, the women's movement and the resistance to Trump, Republicans, and all that they're peddling has been inspired by artists. Because of social justice-minded artists (two things that are often synonymous) we have pussy hats and #MeToo and Lynzy Lab's viral song, "A Scary Time."
Art saves lives. Art of all forms gives artists tools to process trauma and heal, as well as a voice. It makes people realize that they're not alone in the world. We all have a song we listen to ("Sixteen, Maybe Less" by Iron & Wine) or a movie we watch (The Neverending Story) when we're going through something. We turn to art to make sense of this wild, wild world.
Some writers I know have told me that they've had a hard time creating since the election of a meglomaniac to the U.S. presidency. "What do my white lady stories matter anymore?" one friend asked. I understand that feeling, that all the disasters in the world are so much bigger than your quiet little stories. How can your words possibly make a difference? Yet, our collective voices are being heard. Through music and film and literature and dance and all forms of media we will come together to make change.
This music video directed by Spike Lee and featured in the Netflix series She's Gotta Have It (in which, full disclosure, my talented and gorgeous cousin Ilfenesh Hadera plays Opal Gilstrap) perfectly captures the emotions of Trump's election, particularly those felt by people of color in America. Headlines and images of Trump are alternated between photos of slave plantations and anti-Trump/resistance messages. The code switching employed is deliberate and masterful, alluding to specifically African American culture and history. The video - and the show - celebrates black cultures while acknowledging the particular fears black people in America understandably have in this specific moment in history. In the show, the video is interspersed with images of the characters privately mourning the election results. The tone is somber and chilling. It's an incredibly powerful use of art to capture what so many Americans felt on November 9, 2016.
The things that will get us through the hatred we're feeling around the world right now and help us make change are art and community, which go hand-in-hand. So let's get together and make art that will save the world.