Many artists do not recognize the extent to which they are silenced, in their life and in their art, by the unconscious injunction not to make waves and by the corollary injunctions not to speak, not to have a point of view, not to have a voice, not to lead, not to threaten, and not to disturb. All of this must necessarily play itself out in the subject matter choices that artists make—that is, whether to paint “calm and safe” paintings or “wild and radical paintings” (the latter becoming “calm and safe” after awhile, as the world comes to accept them).
Some landscape painters love landscape painting; others are out of touch with what they would like to paint because they are enjoined from speaking and might paint very differently if they recovered their voice. Some romance writers love writing romances; others are out of touch with what they would like to write because they are afraid to explore the darkness honestly and might leave their “safe” genre if they found their courage. Doing a certain sort of work isn’t proof that you have silenced yourself; but when an artist does “safe” work, we are entitled to wonder if he or she has consciously opted for that work or whether he or she has landed there by default, not having permission to land elsewhere.
I call the process of mindfully making social or political art “engaged creativity.” My ideas about “engaged creativity” center on the notion that we can mindfully and consciously do art “from different places” in our being, sometimes tackling cultural or social issues because they have risen to such a level of importance in us that they really must be addressed, other times doing our art for any one of a multitude of other reasons, each personally legitimate.
For me, the question is not whether to be “engaged” or “not to be engaged” but rather to learn how to move in and out of our various motives and intentions. I suspect that disowning engagement completely is a form of self-censorship and a safety device. But that doesn’t mean that we must overthrow everything and become radical, only that we must become (as always) mindful and aware. And, I think, devote some substantial portion of our energy and efforts to “engaged creativity” pursuits like speaking out on the important issues of the day.
Safe art? Engaged art? Or maybe do both? These are questions well worth pondering.
Eric Maisel’s latest book is Life Purpose Boot Camp. Please take a look!