Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Artists aren't Crazy! The Artist as Change Agent

Crazy or artist? Cake or death? It kind of seems like the same thing.  Condemnation or liberation.

After I watched Beautiful Losers, I felt like I had been affirmed.  Here were these artists doing crazy things by anyone's standards.  They were doing things outside of the mundane, things that just couldn't fit into average daily life.  Squatting in a NYC storefront, deciding to make it into an art gallery by hanging art in it and having parties regularly, tagging walls all over the place, videoing things that didn't follow typical storylines... To the average person, these things seem crazy.  To me they were "Of course." 

Let me first say that for the purposes of this discussion, we will say "artist" is any creative fringe person in society which includes filmmakers, writers, painters, musicians, animators, actors, and potentially comedians. Let us say "crazy" will be "mentally ill."

Artists aren't crazy.  They're different.  Yes, we could say that within any demographic there is a certain element of people who are mentally ill.  Fine.  But artists aren't any more mentally ill than anyone else.  They just happen to be different.  And let's be honest.  Different is scary. 

Society isn't based on difference (and don't talk to me about pluralism or cosmopolitanism, because that is superficial - we're talking about something much deeper).  Society is based on conformity.  It counts on people choosing to marry, to have babies at a certain time, to buy houses or rent apartments.  It isn't just conformity to a certain skin tone or religion, but in all actions.  There are rules that society requires we follow in order to maintain social order.  It counts on people following the network of laws and social rules.  Society wants things to conform, sometimes so much so there is a willingness to purge difference. Just look at all of the white power and tea-bagging groups out there.  They don't like different, they like the same. There is a strong need to homogenize.  Society is built on all these things.  It is a balancing act.  Society finds an equilibrium and keeps it.  Artists function as a change agent.  They push the boundaries of what is socially acceptable, cause the equilibrium to shift, and necessarily, that is uncomfortable for most people. 

So why are artists called crazy? For starters, they are labeled "crazy" because they must be delegitimized.  They must be relegated to the realm of crazy because in our society crazy has no power.  Literally calling an artist crazy makes them less powerful, less threatening.  It also necessarily informs people this group is a wild card.  "Crazy" people are unknowns.  It is not clear what they will do or how they will act.  Thirdly, artists do things we do not understand.  By calling them "crazy" we are attaching some reason to their actions as opposed to investigating the rationale behind them. We are no longer required to be curious as to reasoning for an artist's choices because they are "crazy."  Finally, an artist will often call themselves crazy because it allows them to fill the social role of the "jester." In this role, the artist is able to speak truth to power quite openly without fear of reprisal because their perceived weakness.  Still, because their critique is often so open, bald, and biting, power will tend to take their words under advisement, which is more than many can claim.

As an artist, creative in many media, I find I am often on the border of what is socially acceptable, particularly in my life choices.  I tend to take risks where others would stay home.  I may say things or question common conventions that others find uncomfortable.  I married outside of my social class, which is something many still today find discomfiting.  I have dabbled in any number of things which would make the average American WASP cringe, raise brows, or drop jaws.  This is all "of course" for me.  I mean, I want a job to allow me to write, because I see writing as my real vocation.  My calling is writing.  And that's weird.  It's crazy.  But my words will be taken under advisement, and that's good enough for me.

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