I asked two of my friends, both of different backgrounds than I, what we could do to help unify Black men of different origins. Their response was simple and yet stuck with me. “Leave it to the women and use art”. Their suggestions do have merit. Beyoncé’s “Black is King” was well-received by African Black people. Women have been leading the recent movement, the suggestions themselves got me thinking of history and Black men’s’ role in it. I could not put my finger on what was troubling me until recently. So here we are to discuss a part of my personal opinion of the matter, or at least one part (Not getting into the women comment yet). So what is my opinion? Well, it is this; there is more than enough art to see its limitations. Art will never give us what we are looking for.
Historically art has been used to express the emotions of a time and in the modern age that is no different. We however reached a point in history where art no longer belongs to the artist and the artist’s ideas and meaning for the art can be easily misused and construed. I stand by the thought that we cannot use art to be our saving grace for four reasons.
-The artist is not an activist,
-Your art belongs to the rich.
-History will repeat itself
These three points are the reason why art cannot be used to move towards unification. The idea that art will unify us is an old one. Ultimately, it will fail and end up being mainstream. Once mainstreamed it will then be pimped out and lose its message. To understand this we first have to look at the artist.
“I’m an Artist, not an Activist
The artist is seen as a person who walks around the world aloft and full of dreams. When an artist is depicted in a film, a novel, or any form of media they are depicted as aloft and joyous. The world around them is beautiful and they make the protagonist either happy and forgetful of their task at hand or, angry at their lack of acknowledgment of the task at hand. This same broad line can be found in real life. Examples of the artist showing ignorance of current events can be seen often and met with anger. From ASAP Rocky’s comment of “All I have to do is stay black and die” when asking about social justice to Young Thugs disregard at a question to only being focused on have fun and money. While we get angry with some we give others a pass. Other get baited into it and asked question way outside their understanding because they showed to be woke once or twice. Welcome to the Twitter revolutionaries I spoke on in my last post and it becomes obvious that the Artist is not an Activist.
It doesn’t directly mean art cannot be a form of activism, but that by default the artist and their art are not meant for activism. The artist is the artist and will always want artistic freedom to discuss and art about what they want to art about. So if the artist doesn’t feel like discussing the millions of Muslims being killed and sterilized in China the artist will not discuss it. The artist also should not be expected to be aware of these things as they are not activists. Many artists will play the dumb card examples include, including ASAP Rocky, J Cole, and Kanye West. The artist is on a tightrope. Either they are on your side talking about issues you relate to or they aren’t on your side and face backlash. As one DJ put the best choice for an artist is to remain silent. To be honest the DJ has a point as activism through art just doesn’t do anything. As art belongs to, is decided by and owned by the rich.
Banksy and the Wealthy
Banksy is a street artist whose art sells for millions and millions of dollars regardless of the ploys he uses. His graffiti sells for millions as there is a business for removing then selling street art. Banksy when as far as to shred his work after it was bought at an auction. It increased in value. The artist belongs to the rich. It’s a tough pill to swallow I know. As someone who writes poetry and I am trying to write a book this truly bothers me as well. However, just because it bothers me doesn’t make it any less true.
The artist’s natural goal is to sell his art. The poor and middle class does not need art. So that leaves the rich. While some will find some form to rebel it is not possible. It is less effective than a teenage rebellion. You will make art to show you disdain for the rich and the rich will buy it. Where is the activism in this? Where is the rebellion? There is none. The artist is simply a cog in the machine. Their only purpose is to record the everyday man’s pain to sell to the rich who get off on it. Even if the artist were to put their money towards charities the rich will resell their art for profit after finding it was made to help a charity. The artist in today’s day and age cannot rebel and honestly never could.
Rich people have snatched the Sound
Just as it was with rock, the blues, jazz, house music, techno, swing, and R&B art always gets taken by the oppressor. With rock and roll, they simply took songs made by Black musicians and recorded them with White ones. Fats Domino had his best song reach the billboards only to have a white recording make it to number one the week following. If you don’t know who Fats Domino is, congratulations you proved my point. Rock and Roll was a form of rebellion stolen by the oppressors. Today Rap faces the same dilemma. Starting in the poor burning parts of the Bronx will lower class DJs and MCs rap is now mainstream. It has middle class and rich people making music meant as a poor man’s artist rebellion. The worst part is these middle class and rich people use the same personalities as those who were poor like N.W.A. They act ghetto or want to be perceived as they are ghetto. Thus the art form is no longer genuine.
If the art is no longer genuine than how can it speak for a people or place? Art unifies us but in the wrong ways. White people, Black people, Asians, and Native Americans can love Rap. However, when you are out clubbing to rap do you want all those groups saying the n-word? Would you want an Asian male from Lower Manhattan saying the n-word and acting like he is from Lynn, Massachusetts, or Brooklyn? Does the art tell him that this is not okay?
Art in any form cannot be the only source of activism. My position on my friends’ comments is that it just sounds like laziness at the turn of being tired. I get that. It’s tiring to constantly look for solutions but I can not rest on art being solutions. Or maybe I am in the wrong here. Can art be a solution? Maybe my opinion is wrong. What’s your opinion?