How Art Can Save the World
If you have read any of my articles before this point, you can probably guess my political views and, subsequently, how I reacted to the results of the recent election. I was hurt, confused, angry, scared… I felt betrayed. I felt as though my country had let me down. I skipped one of my classes because I couldn’t bring myself to face a lecture full of people who aren’t affected by the results in the way that I am, as a black woman. I couldn’t bring myself to face a lecture full of people who were possibly happy with the results. I wasn’t in a good place. Many people felt the same way. I had conversations with people wondering: What do we do? Do we cry? Do we fight? Protest? I had people tell me that they wanted to do something to impact the world, but they weren’t sure what. There are a variety of things one can do to improve the world, and I definitely can’t impose my views on anyone else. But if you’re looking for something that will change the world as well as something to find solace in, here’s my suggestion: create art.
That probably wasn’t what you were expecting. Art is definitely devalued by society, and I might say this is even more true at UVA. Art majors are looked down upon. If you have a high GPA, but you’re not a STEM major or in the Comm School, people say it doesn’t mean anything. And here I am saying that art will change the world. Those might not add up in your mind, but this is not a new opinion I am introducing. I myself did not know this until college. Perhaps it is the world’s best kept secret, but art is the soul of the revolution. Look to your major movements, look to the leaders of the movements, and they will say the same. Throughout history, marginalized people have used art to express themselves, to inspire people, and to improve the world. I’m talking all types of art--literature, music, paintings, sketches, theatre, etc.
W.E.B. Du Bois, one of the great figures in American history said in his essay “Criteria of Negro Art” that “All art is propaganda and ever must be... I do not give a damn about any art that is not propaganda.” And I’m inclined to agree. I believe that all artists should be crafting their art with the intention of making a positive impact. And I don’t mean changing legislation, I mean changing minds--because that is where it starts. Propaganda doesn’t have to mean explicitly talking about politics, or inciting protest. That wasn’t what Du Bois meant. When he used the word “propaganda,” he meant he wanted positive, affirming works of art for “those who believe black blood human, lovable and inspired with new ideas for the world.” He wrote those words in 1926, but I would say that ninety years later, that is still the type of propaganda we need. Representation of marginalized identities that aren’t stereotypical leads to change. Writing about an issue that many may not be aware of leads to change. Offering a new perspective on your canvas leads to change. So when I was feeling hopeless about the results of the election, I found relief in the fact that I was already making some contributions. I had Iris. And I had The Black Monologues.
For those of you who don’t know, The Black Monologues is a theatrical production that explores the joys, complexities, struggles, and diversity of blackness at UVA and beyond. Unlike the vast majority of theatre at UVA, it is written, directed, produced, and staged all by black people. As a black actress at a predominately white institution, this means a lot to me. I grew up loving theatre but feeling as though I was inhabiting a “white space.” I didn’t know about the rich history of African American Theatre, and how it was used to make social impacts like those I described earlier. But in my classes at UVA, I finally learned about that crucial piece of history. And as a member of the inaugural cast of The Black Monologues, I got to be a part of it. I would describe this show as "propaganda" because it is where black people finally get to express themselves. We offer conflicting views. We display a myriad of identities. We show the world that there is no such thing as uniform blackness. My life was changed last year by participating in it, but I wasn’t the only one. We created an impact then. That’s why being involved again helped me find my joy in the wake of news that left me joyless.
Our show opened this past Thursday, November 10th--the day after we got the election results that, regardless of who you supported, were shocking for most everyone. I’m not sure what I would have done if I didn’t have The Black Monologues to turn to. When I say that I found solace in the wake of my pain, I don’t just mean that I was surrounded by a community of people I felt I could trust, although that certainly helped. I mean that I knew that I was doing something constructive. I was positively impacting my university, and subsequently, the world. I think a lot of the black students who attended the show this past weekend found solace too. As the exit polls have shown us, the large majority of black Americans were not Trump supporters. If you’ve paid attention to the news, I’m sure you understand why not. I think The Black Monologues could not have come at a better time for the black students at UVA who are hurting. I’m not saying The Black Monologues alone is going to save the world. But I know it’s a start. People have already spoken to us about how greatly the show affected them. It is two hours, with no intermission, which can be hard to sit through in today’s fast-paced age. And yet in the first weekend (three nights) we had, people came to see it twice. We received a thank-you letter from someone who described how much it positively influenced them. People came up to us after the show saying how necessary it is. We’ve already made an impact, and will continue to do so in the show’s second weekend. All of those people will feel a change, no matter how minor. That is how it starts. No big hurdle in the world could have ever been overcome if just a few people didn’t want to make it happen, if they weren’t inspired to do something.
If you’re like me and were feeling hopeless after the election but aren’t sure how to get involved, here’s at least a place to start: look to your talents and find your solace. Pick up a pen, a paintbrush, take a photo, etc. Whatever talent you have, you can use it to impact the change you want to see in the world. We don’t know what will happen in the next four years, but you don’t have to be silent. Speak through your art.