To my artist and creative-kindred friends and readers,
I am writing to you to ask you to consider the invitation of #artistsforlove more deeply, if it has been on your radar, and if you are not already doing so.
This is not going to be my most popular or succinct post - but I’m asking you to stick with me if you are in any way compelled. This is from my own processing, and I don’t have answers. I’ve got a lot to learn and improve on myself. But I do have a strong intuitive radar for things around love and justice, even if my words and actions often fail to express it.
I feel called to share my thoughts on this precisely because I am an artist, who believes in the power of art and love. I also believe that peace and unity are not actually peace and unity without justice and accountability to one another, and for all people. We’ve got a lot of healing to do before we get there.
So, I want to share my in-process thoughts to the call for the #artistsforlove ‘movement’ put out by Kelly Rae Roberts, Flora Bowley and friends this week. My circles of people overlap with theirs, though their reach is vastly larger than mine. I also want to say that I don’t know any of the artists personally. Like many of you, I’m mostly familiar with their online presence and the work they do sharing creativity with others. It seems generous and heartful.
I am not going to question the intent or sentiment of the invitation. I believe it is well-intended. And love for love's sake is not my issue.
I am interested in challenging myself - and those of us in primarily white women artist circles who are up for the contemplation - to think about this a little harder and see if there is something we can learn and grow with.
My issue is not the call for love, but a call for love that feels watered down, while intimately wrapping itself up in the very real, acute issues of justice and equality for oppressed and marginalized groups, with seemingly little input so far, as far as we know, from actual members of those groups or the active existing movements that support them.
OK, I know I know… it is true that many of us are feeling ‘alone and scared’ - as #artistsforlove conveniently includes this distinction in its list of people to stand with. But herein lies another important major issue about this invitation to ponder.
Compiling this list of groups together, from specific groups of people to very generalized ones, and ending with the idealized notion that we are all in the same boat and all need the same expression of love… is a far cry from honoring the vastly different realities that black people, Muslims, immigrants, LGBTQ people, etc face on a day-to-day basis.
Lumping everyone together into a pool of 'unified' togetherness, and calling it love, seems to me to take away the importance of very individual and different realities from being seen by each other. And we need to see this spectrum of truth in one another to really get some sense of this mess we are in.
It seems to me this could come across… at the very least… condescending and negligent to individuals in each of the listed groups (who may be feeling very alone and scared in a way we don't experience), and to the already-existing movements and artists that are working toward true solidarity, raising depth awareness and fighting for their rights and needs. It might make us feel like we are somehow part of it all (because “women” are listed, too, of course)… but, frankly, we are not - not exactly. Each of these groups has distinctly unique struggles and stories. I know that we get that intellectually, perhaps....
My experience as a white woman in a culture that is oppressive and sexist to women is vastly different than my queer sister's or a Muslim woman’s, and even further from that of a black man’s or an indigenous person living on the rez. Now, we certainly have our own struggles and wounds as women, but let’s not throw everyone in the pot together with us, sing Kumbaya, paint a pretty picture, send a check and call it a day. Let's be sure we are diving deeper.
I know we 'get' this. But I'm saying it anyway, especially after last week. Because getting something and actually backing it up are two very different things.
Without justice there can be no love. ~ Bell Hooks
Remember, solidarity and 'standing with' in the context of the vast human rights issues and realities of our time is actually not about us (meaning, in this instance, us white women). It IS about them. And I’m not suggesting a perpetuation of divisiveness by saying “us” and “them”… (and I struggle for words here, as I am aware of a fine line in language with othering, and do hope I'm not misunderstood)... but rather it is our duty to not negligently deny the different realities, and instead to honor the vast diversity of experience and people that simply exists.
That is closer to a unity that brings our high spiritual ideas of oneness more in alignment to a palpable, practical application in a very physical world of harsh human realities and duality here on earth.
It is good to check-in with our comfort, our edges and the motivations beneath the surface of feel-good invitations, especially when they are started in the name of others who suffer greatly.
We all do support and art in different ways, sure - and that is a really good thing - but let's also do more check-ins with ourselves and ask ourselves more often…
Is this really enough? Meaningful to who it is supposedly for? My best effort at this time? What more can I do? How can I REALLY get informed and help? How can I reach out and ask for what is needed from actual people - directly - and offer what I can, when I can….
How can I Stand Up FOR? Get educated? And do so beyond the circles and feeds I am already circulating in? Where is the actual relationship building happening outside of my comfortable circles to actually create the inclusiveness that motivates me and the ideals that inspire me? How do I SHOW, not TELL (or just social-media broadcast), that I mean love by ACTION, not just words - whether it’s messy or beautiful in expression? What commitments can I make in this regard? And how will I be held accountable to keep them?
This can begin and be explored in our personal art practice, but let's not let it end there.
Far more articulate and resourceful than me on matters like this of socio-political concern is artist Rachael Rice. She shares thoughts on these pressing times, much better than myself, that may be of interest - as well as resources HERE. Her voice is direct, unapologetic and not for everyone - but we need all of our voices, even the ones that make us distinctly uncomfortable... because we need to grow beyond our own views before we can heal wounds this large. There are also very interesting comments on the difficulties of this on her facebook feed, including a reply from Kelly Rae, with perspectives to consider. Update: There is also an informative and ongoing-active feed on Flora's page HERE.
For me, I am distinctly sensitive to energies, and tend to see and feel multiple angles at once, and I lean toward love and compassion always... but I want to see artists explore beyond hashtags for love and a list copied onto their own art, with their own urls pasted on them. I can't help but wonder, Why must it even remotely resemble self-promotional marketing? Feels just *ugh* in this important context - but maybe that's just me?
In a movement of expressing love for the marginalized - wouldn't you love to see art from and hear the voices and stories of the people listed on these #artistsforlove flyers, for instance? To see links to them and their stories, to movements that already help them, shared more by us artists who want to learn to be truer allies… and maybe see how THAT floods hashtag #artistsforlove and our feeds - or how it distinctly makes us grow in our own creative process and expression of both art and love.
It’s safe in our circles to share what is already ours and hope we get a pat on the back from one another, or acknowledged by a teacher we look up to… and there's nothing wrong with this, you guys. It's riskier, though, - and certainly less self-interested - to spread the word about someone else's art or activism, or get behind someone whose voice is different and listen to challenging questions, less popular thoughts or lived stories from a marginalized group. We need to take some damn risks.
We don't have to all agree with one another, but if we are only learning from people we agree with, we actually probably aren't learning anything at all.
I, too, believe in the power of inclusion, and women as a force to be reckoned with… and that as white women, we have a whole lot to unpeel and learn, unlearn and reform. We do have the potential to change some things, to make room for healing… but we have to step it up - and that means stepping back sometimes, taking another look, using less space and airtime for ourselves and more for the causes and people we claim to support.
I feel called to ask us not to fall into oversimplification of the depth of what it means to be Loving toward all our brothers and sisters. While making art for love is beautiful in and of itself, when it is supposed to be about others - how can we let that Love transform our actions and willingness to actually show up to them, trusting what they tell us about their doubts and pain without trumping it with our own hopes and needs?
We can look for and see how others who are already involved are living and leaning into their declarations of solidarity. We can watch those who are way more radical than we are to find our own middle way - or maybe our own extreme version. Be inspired. Be sparked. Be not afraid. Be Love.
Again, I'll say that I believe much of this was meant to be implied in the original invitation for #artistsforlove, but I feel it most definitely needs to be said more clearly, so this musing is my contribution... because the watered down impression of 'love for all' - 'no matter what' - seems to dangerously sit on the edges of enabling and bypass from the more difficult realities of what it means to decidedly show the discernment and action that this sort of love demands.
As we all grow here, and feel inspired or uninspired by the #artistsforlove call...
Try asking yourself how your efforts are specifically helpful to those on the list in groups you don’t ‘belong’ to… answering from the imagined standpoint of a poor exiled immigrant, a scared peaceful Muslim, or a black mother - who believed that the American people of this day and age would not choose economic politics or a self-interested desire for government-change over living, breathing people who fear for their very lives because of the blatant and disgusting rhetoric and actions of a candidate who stands for so much that goes against the very rights of the people on this #artistsforlove list.
Because... the original invitation repeatedly addresses the notion of discomfort and being 'held' by one another, even with 'different political beliefs'... considerably more so than any of the groups/people on the list were actually talked about... and because politics ARE very, very personal. I hope and pray we understand that after last week.
Can we artists dare to be present to pain that is not our own, but that ours is certainly entwined with, in the name of love that includes others who are very angry, scared and maybe even untrusting of us right now?
I don’t believe these things I question are the intent of the invitation at all, but it is the flavor I have been left to contemplate in my own process. When you call for a 'movement' to artists that is mixed in with social justice and rights - expect a rising of questions, challenges and growing pains.
Maybe you see a potential for shift and transformation here, too.
I get that we don't necessarily want to face the pain, the shame, the blame... listening to the words, challenges and accusations of those on the front-lines of these battles for social justice, or looking into the eyes of someone who is suspicious of us, when we know in our hearts we don't intentionally mean them harm... because we begin to see that, because of a vast entanglement of wrong-doings, selective vision and looking the other way, this intention of no-harm may not have mattered one bit. This is hard shit.
Harder yet, is being present to the pain of others in all its stages and rages. Letting them have that, unrushed, unchecked. Letting it silence us. Not competing with it because you, too, are in pain or feeling unseen or misunderstood or just plain confused, overwhelmed and helpless.
And of course we women want to ease the discomfort and fear. It’s what we do… we want to let them and one another know ‘you are not alone.’ This is not wrong in itself (unless it's another way of making it about us). As caregivers, to respond to distress is instinct.
AND, we need to know how to better relate to the people we 'stand with'... and that means honestly saying that we can't always relate to their experience, and that there are some serious wounds that need full-on undivided attention, and bridges that need built and mended between where we are and what we hope to become.
Please don't misunderstand... we women artists very much need our places and ways of comfort through our own grief, healing and need for growth in all of this, too. AND it is a privilege to get that at all, to even be able to take our time with it.
And the last thing we all need are endless cycles of shaming and blaming, or running and hiding from tough questions, so much so that the divide and misunderstanding of what is truly needed only grows and festers. We also certainly need to step out of paralysis analysis, and blinding defense mechanisms, yes? Let's be stronger than all of that. I believe we can.
We do need to dare to be bigger and better than the latest trend of superficial wear-this or post-that ‘solidarity’.
If our efforts do not speak to the marginalized, or is not educated about what that even means, we really are just petting our own egos.
And, again, I say to you, my sister artists - we are better and wiser than that. And I include myself when I say… we have a lot to learn and a lot of work to do. But we have to speak up and out and to one another about this stuff.
Before I end this today, I’ll share one more thing…
I was a nurse once. A pain management nurse. It doesn't take long in that role to learn about what pain does to people. People who are experiencing it become 'too much' for those who don't know how to help or be with someone in serious pain, and so their helping becomes about themselves and not the one in pain… and often becomes a looking-away, a dangerous micro-management, or seeing only what one wants to see as a witness to the pain in another.
Maybe this is human nature to some degree, to keep us out of a hole of despair where we feel no control, or so we don’t have to face our own mortality, fragility and pain… but we all get that this is not compassion and helpful healing, right?
See, there's a funny thing pain has to teach us about being human, helpful and hopeful, and facing it together.
Pain most often wants and needs to be seen before it can be relieved. It is a messenger. I’m talking about really intense pain. More importantly, the person experiencing it wants and needs to be seen and acknowledged, in order to become whole again, and to not lose themselves to the horrors of being in its clutches. Not as a statistic or case study, or as some extension of someone else's experience, but as valid beings, in and of themselves - in this pain, their pain, like no one else's, right now.
In the seeing, being with and actual acknowledgment of the person and their pain, there is a hope and communion that is vastly more true than the most well-intended promises of “I’ll be there for you” or “Let’s focus on something positive.” I tell you this precisely because it is pretty easy to relate to, and may be a helpful metaphor.
So, I ask you to consider, as I am...
How could this #artistsforlove invitation be a catalyst to help you narrow your focus for actions of Love that extend past your comfort zone and usual ways of creating, sharing and helping - and into efforts that are about outcomes and not intentions?
What is the movement (perhaps, an alternative) you would like to see in your artist community?
How can you not be just an artist for the broad concept of love, but rather an actively Loving artist for oppressed, unseen and marginalized people and human rights - even if that means standing UP FOR in real-time, and not just with from behind a screen? Reflect on this, so that you know HOW you might react when put to the test.
Whether or not your visual art is ever involved with a social justice or human rights movement, in small or big ways, that is truly, totally OK. Art has to be what it is for each of us - we need to be true to that.
But do ask...
What does your voice in this day and age sound like? Practice using it, out loud with others, to find the words you would use to express who and what you are willing to stand up for. Risk being wrong, called in, called out, misunderstood, ignored. Grow that strength.
How can I listen better?
If you've read this far, you want a better world, too... so...
How does any of this invite you, personally, to go deeper, clearer, further… to get a little more raw and real with it all than you ever have before?
What do you need to unlearn, re-learn, or learn for the first time?
How do you choose to LIVE your art and love, out loud?
Please, Make your art.
Trust your hunches, your second-thoughts, the lamppost of your heart, and your ability to critically think for yourself - and to receive the critically important questions from others.
Be willing to expand your understanding of what love, solidarity and presence can look like in the face of suffering and threat. Be willing to double-back and say, I didn't think of it that way.
We need your vision, your art, your all-in efforts, regardless of what hashtags you use. We all need to be willing to grow.
So, make your art. Share your art. Spread your love.
AND actively, lovingly, vigilantly stand up for the justice and rights of marginalized, oppressed and underrepresented people in your conversations and your lives.
Ongoing updates with links of interest that I find and that are shared with me:
Some artist collectives that create work that supports non-dominant voices:
Some places to follow and be informed:
A list of the many, many links generously shared over the course of this dialogue on fb, put together by Meg Worden as we all learn and stretch into more informed understanding:
11/23: The creators of the project report they are now taking in everyone's input in the main feedback posts on fb, and in dialogue about how to shift the project into better alignment, considering impact over intent.
Please feel free to add ideas or links to action-inspired artists and movements that are in alignment with this call for love, justice, human rights and solidarity - in the comments below...