Why are creative people so often in opposition to the world around them? Why do we feel alienated, out of step, even rejected? Using a tv storyboard you are not only making your life easier but you also doing it accurately.
For those of us who recognise these things, there are a series of interlocking answers, which are, I believe, affirming of who we are and what we do.
In every group, society and nation there is a set of accepted, tolerated, agreed upon ideas, dogmas, and archetypes that are considered acceptable to those in command of the society. Politicians and their police, their law courts, the media owners and the ‘approved’ and therefore celebrated artists all play a part in the construction of these things, which together may be called the ‘cultural cannon’.
Adherence to and celebration of this cannon is deemed ‘normal’. Normal means that the artist conforms to the attitudes of the dominant social, cultural and political ideas of the period. For instance: ‘greed is good’, ‘regime change in distant countries is acceptable’, ‘non judicial killing of enemies is morally acceptable’, profits are more important than employment’, and so on. This means that questioning the status quo is unacceptable because the whole existences, rationale and best interest of those in power is to maintain things as they are. Questioning their authority, opening people’s hearts to new feelings and their minds to new ideas is dangerous to the status quo.
What artist worth his/her salt does not question unfairness, injustice, inhumanity? What artist, worth being called an artist is insensitive to the needs of the people around them?
If the so-called artist is not concerned or caring, he/she probably produces entertainment as best and a kind of propaganda at worst because their work embraces the acceptable cultural cannon. By its very nature it is a celebration of the status quo.
Because film and television are such powerful forms of media, followed by the popular press, they are strictly controlled and regulated in terms of their political content. It is not that there is some sort of plot – at least in the West – but rather a chain of interlocking financial and political interests that create controlling and self-regulating hierarchies (for instance from reporter to sub-editor to editor to publisher to their advertisers, board members and political cronies) who, through control of job advancement and security, will subtly enforce what a reporter may or may not write about or with what opinion they inform their text. Art gallery owners will know the taste of their wealthy patrons, publishers will assume the taste and needs of their fiction readers and so on. Once they reduce, circumscribe, dumb down their audiences, this becomes the expected, the norm. When asked why they dumb down, they protest that this, which they have cultured in the audience, is what they now crave.
Art and artists who seek to represent the cultural cannon, to be a part of the zeitgeist, to subsume themselves in popular dumbed down culture are artists who can never rise to the full heights of art. They represent the given, the already acceptable, the known. They copy, rehash, they represent dead theatre, the divided self, a frozen understanding of the past. The paid for critics will admire them, translate them for us, explain why they are good and those who do not accept the cultural norms are bad.
When a real artist challenges the status quo, they are, in the West, scorned or ignored and isolated. In places like China and the ex Soviet Union, artists are and were sent to mental asylums and treated with drugs to make them comatose. After almost every coup, invasion or regime change the new authorities arrest the trade unionists, the intellectuals and the artists because they are seen as possible focal points for resistance or rebellion. The repressive sociopaths, fascists, martinets, racists, nationalists, religious or other ideological fundamentalists amongst us are right; art is about dreams, dreams demand change and change challenges the status quo. This is why real art is truly dangerous.
The combined social expression of each individual in society, called the collective unconscious – that which is alive in every individual of the group, maintains a constant exchange or interaction with the cultural cannon. It cannot be otherwise as we individually receive and interact with the assumptions of the cannon in our education, in the media, in other’s opinions and in virtually everything we see and hear everyday.
In the beginning a victorious ruling establishment seek to overthrow the old culture with the new. Soon though, as the revolution, coup or whatever political change has occurred becomes established, their institutions, ideas, belief systems, morality becomes moribund, rotting from self-interest, corruption, exhaustion, conflicting ideological or financial. Their newly constructed culture, created to celebrate them turns into cant, superficial entertainment, dogma. The once heroic archetypes become rigidified.
But often repression, mediocrity and injustice create their own contradictions in society. People begin to wake up and consciousness becomes, in the hands of poets, intellectuals and artists, transformative. The unknown begins to have a shape and then a name and the dull collective consciousness and the repressive or unjust apparatus of control begins to seem less inevitable. Imagination leads to the possibility of imagining change.
The artist who is in opposition to the cannon is by necessity in opposition to its cultural values and is therefore often alone. In such a phase, their work is by necessity tragic. This defines the hero who knows he/she must attack and destroy the old to create the new. Artists are isolated from their society and united with their destiny as they create an image of the future. If the sensibility of the artist has remained alive, inquisitive and rebellious, a psyche which has not been suppressed or divided from itself or by the pressures of the surrounding society or by life, that artist, although alone, will sense the inner working of the collective unconscious and be amongst the first in society to make these invisible become visible. Artists, true artists are our moral weather vanes, turning in the winds of change long before the rest of society even sense a breeze.
This is why artists are alienated, out of step and feel rejection. But this is also why artists must continue to produce uncompromising work.
Much of this analysis is a result of my personal journey and the way I have seen my best work treated. I continually asked why it was that the most important work I have done in my life, I have had to do for free, unsupported and often ignored by the gatekeepers but admired by audiences. I am constantly asked things like ‘but why is this not on TV’ or ‘why has this not been printed or published’. I believe this article answers some to those questions.
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