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Sunday, February 23, 2014
Can Art Change Culture?
Writers are culture makers, culture changers. We observe, we interpret, we are thinkers. We challenge the status quo. We are the first to be muzzled, imprisoned, and intimidated by oppressive and tyrannical leaders. Art has always been a vehicle for social change, social commentary – but the art must come first not the message.
The difference between great art, and art that creates culture is the message behind the art. All the great artists were great because they had something to say. Shakespeare has as much to say to people today as he did to his own contemporaries.
Artists want two things: opportunity and favour. They want the opportunity to put their art before an audience and have that art judged on its own merit not some historical, sometimes stuffy, arbitrary list of rules and etiquette.
But great art, great artists, not only entertain, beguile – they have something to say. Independent artists are shaking their fists at the gate-keepers and using modern marketing tools to reach new audiences. The books the gatekeepers say aren’t marketable, are finding new audiences online. The established rules and parameters and ‘comfort zones’ of the few in power is being challenged by those who write for a niche market, who blur the lines, who blend genres.
Andy Crouch in his book Culture Making writes that change affecting culture begins with a small group who innovate. “All culture making is local. Every cultural good, whether a new word, law, recipe, song or gadget, begins with a small group of people – and not just a relatively small group but an absolutely small group. No matter how many it goes on to affect, culture always starts small. And this means that no matter how complex and extensive the cultural system you may consider, the only way it will be changed is by an absolutely small group of people who innovate and create a new cultural good.”
Art gives a voice to the voiceless, allows the unseen to become visible, shines a light on what we do well and how we mess up. And we don’t always have an answer. Artists who are Christian have something important to say, value to offer, and the art we create can’t simply imitate the existing culture but must innovate with the highest level of quality and excellence.
This principle is expanded upon in Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point with his law of the 3 – 12 – 120. The innovation begins very small, with two or three people, then expands to a close group – the 12, which then requires investment by a larger but still small group – the 120. This is played out in the arts repeatedly.
When does art change culture? Gladwell puts forward this idea in the afterward to The Tipping Point in the 2nd edition: “On playing fields and battlegrounds, challenges that would be daunting and impossible if faced alone are suddenly possible when tackled in a close-knit group. The people haven’t changed, but the way in which the task appears to them has.”
When love stops being the reason for creating the art, when your message is not one of building up but tearing down, you lose the respect of your audience and other artists – and whatever message you have is easily dismissed.
How many Christian bloggers tear down the Church, and attack individuals and groups? They aren’t starting a conversation, asking questions, they’re using a platform to shoot darts.
I’ve been to conferences for Christian writers where those who don’t write for a Christian market are shunned. *raises brows* She writes romance – for the general market. If all the artists who are Christian only made art for other Christians what kind of inbred culture would that create? We are called to be salt and light, not to insulate and isolate. Isn’t there a place for the Christian artists who make art for other Christians, and those who just make art?
As an individual artist, a lone writer, I see the task of using my art to say anything important as insurmountable. But when I join with other artists both traditional and indie, a small group who builds up and supports art through love and mutual respect things can happen – and when that message reaches a small but larger group who understands the message, who are passionate about the message, word of mouth takes over and maybe, just maybe, something impossible becomes possible and culture is affected and changed for the better.
Do you think artists (of any discipline) are culture changers? In your opinion, should the art or the message come first?
Lisa Hall-Wilson is an award-winning freelance writer and syndicated columnist in the Canadian faith-based market. She writes dark fantasy novels and blogs at www.lisahallwilson.com. Lisa's teaching a class called Beyond Basics: How To Write Effective Inner Dialogue on March 8th. Use code 'Lisa20' for 20% off, or take advantage of a WANA2fer for even more discounts. Watch for her debut novel out spring 2014.
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