National Arts Advocacy Day is significant because it grants us an opportunity to gather as a community to reflect on the role of contemporary artists in the 21st century. No matter what the chosen art form, the passion to do art and to be art is born out of an insatiable yearning to make beauty, to make sense, and even to make waves.
As artists, we are summoned to bear witness of the truth of the human experience…the human condition and truth is more than simply facts. It is realness of life that is imbued with the psychological, emotional, spiritual elements of living that is not always easily accessible. It is this sense of urgency to communicate that artists find avenues to connect through music, theatre, film, dance, art, and literature.
For example, the powerful play by American playwright Stephen Adly Guigis, The Last Days of Judas Iscariot, explores in a witty, provocative, and sometimes-funny manner, questions about love and redemption through the story of a man who is considered the most notorious villain in human history. The genesis of this kind of art is the visceral reality that only comes from self-understanding. It is the quest for self-understanding that gives way to constant questioning, observing, celebrating, and revering the complexity, mystery, and beauty of humanity. Self-understanding fortifies us from self-deception and easy consolations.
We, as artists, are the first beneficiaries of the power of the arts to tell our personal story that mirrors our own realities. Each of us can be an alchemist, taking our ideas and understanding of the world around us along with our imagination and creativity to transform them into precious elements of universal elixir.
I believe that artists have the responsibility to hold the mirror up to nature and give a truthful account of the human condition and to do so in a manner that can touch the soul and heart as well as the mind.
Fifty years ago in a speech at Amherst College, John F. Kennedy proclaimed the importance of art when he said, “art establishes the basic human truth, which must serve as the touchstone of our judgment.”
Imagining the significant place of the arts in our society, he said, “I look forward to an America, which will reward achievements in the arts as we reward achievements in business or statecraft. I look forward to an America which will steadily raise the standards of artistic achievement and which will steadily enlarge cultural opportunities for all of our citizens. And I look forward to an America, which commands respect throughout the world not only for its strength but for its civilization as well.”
Even though there are some who feel that our commitment to contribute to the human spirit through our study and work in the arts and humanities leads to nowhere, I prefer to seek a life of meaning—of purpose. To know true meaning and purpose, it requires often going against the status quo, being the solitary figure.
It is the role of the arts community to affect civilization. It is the role of the artist to steadily raise the standards of artistic achievements and enlarge cultural opportunities for all citizens. As artists, it is our plight to be motivated by our concern for justice, for our nation’s greater strength!
As Kennedy said, “I see little of more importance to the future of our country and our civilization than full recognition of the place of the artist.”