Artists are here to disturb the peace.
— James Baldwin
Artists are here to disturb the peace.
— James Baldwin
Books are a form of political action. Books are knowledge. Books are reflection. Books change your mind.
The celebration of Black History Month continues.
“What’s the point of having a voice if you’re gonna be silent in those moments you shouldn’t be?”
— Angie Thomas, The Hate U Give (2017)
“Self-consciousness is the enemy of all art, be it acting, writing, painting or living itself, which is the greatest art of all. Creativity, at heart, is the essence of man’s being.”
– Ray Bradbury, The Writer, Nov 1965, quoted Nov 2014
“In the realm of ideas everything depends on enthusiasm…in the real world all rests on perseverance.”
– attributed to Goethe, quoted in Julia Cameron with Emma Lively, Prosperity Every Day: A Daily Companion on Your Journey to Greater Wealth and Happiness (2015)
Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.
— William Butler Yeats (1865-1939), “He wishes for the Cloths of Heaven”
Now the great Irish poet was imploring his love, the woman he saw as his muse, but I think the final lines apply equally to any artist presenting his or her work — be it a painting, a song, a poem, or a novel — to the world. When we’re asked to read, or view, or listen, we owe the artist whatever level of critique they ask of us, though sometimes that’s none at all. But always, we owe them — we owe this world — an open heart and, I think, the awareness that their work is a piece of their dreams.
“It’s not about having a background that lines up with the characters you’re writing about, I realized. That’s not the responsibility of the fiction writer. Instead, you have the responsibility to be sympathetic—to have empathy. And the responsibility to be knowing – to understand, or at least desire to understand, the people you write about. … [Y]ou have to write something true by at least having a baseline of empathy before you start writing it. …
“Readers only balk at writers depicting people who aren’t like them when it feels like the characters are types. It’s when you’ve somehow failed to make fully nuanced and 3-dimensional characters that people start to say, What right do you have? But when the characters transcend type, no one questions the author’s motives. Characters’ backgrounds, their gender—these things are only aspects of their personality, just as they are for real people. If the writer pulls it off, if they make you see the humanity in the character, that stuff falls away—no matter who you’re writing about.”
— novelist Angela Flournoy in Light the Dark: Writers on Creativity, Inspiration, and the Artistic Process, ed. by Joe Fassler (2017)
“Given the ways in which race works in this country, and in the West in general, it actually becomes a radical political statement to introduce blackness into the consciousness of the reader without explanation or announcement. In this way, my characters are not measured over or against whiteness, or understood as a reflection of whiteness. They are simply themselves.
The hardest thing about writing, I think, is observing properly. But more and more, I think, it’s what makes a piece of writing good.”
—Ayana Mathis, in Light the Dark: Writers on Creativity, Inspiration, and the Artistic Process, ed. by Joe Fassler (2017)
“We’ve all heard the expression ‘one person, one vote’ used to promote the idea that every human being deserves a voice in the political process. Well, I like literature that’s ‘one person, one truth’ – that each person’s experience, no matter how marginal, has the power to tell us something vital about what it means to be human. It’s true that, in many ways, fiction has not been universal: It’s probably been a middle-class form, and there are definitely forgotten people whose lives have not been chronicled. I don’t think writers should be self-congratulatory. But one of the ideological things that the novel form helped accomplish was to expand literature’s focus. The novel tends to show us that the lives of ‘ordinary people’ are as full of drama, emotion, and even political significance as those of the greats.”
—novelist Tom Perotta in Light the Dark: Writers on Creativity, Inspiration, and the Artistic Process, ed by Joe Fassler (2017)
“In almost every major literature there are works that make you love being human, and make you love and revere the humanity of other people. That is the great potential of any art. Viewed this way, our language—and especially literature, that special, potent case—has incredible power.
“Writing should always be exploratory. There shouldn’t be the assumption that you know ahead of time what you want to express. When you enter into the dance with language, you’ll begin to find that there’s something before, or behind, or more absolute than the thing that you thought you wanted to express. And as you work, other kinds of meaning emerge than what you might have expected. It’s like wrestling with the angel: On the one hand you feel the constraints of what can be said, but on the other hand you feel the infinite potential. There’s nothing more interesting than language and the problem of trying to bend it to your will, which you can never quite do. You can only find what it contains, which is always a surprise.”
— Marilynne Robinson, in Light the Dark: Writers on Creativity, Inspiration, and the Artistic Process, ed by Joe Fassler (2017)