One of the most compelling things about art is the way it reflects and/or comments on society. Art often illuminates and confronts the shadow sides–the injustice and inhumanity that make everyday life difficult, dangerous, or painful for certain people in certain bodies.
There is another compelling aspect of art: the disclcosure of one’s interior landscape. Art is often a deeply personal (even if veiled) revelation of thoughts, feelings, experiences, dreams, and questions. It is an offering of self.
As a queerblackleftistwoman, I feel a lot of pressure to make art that is intentionally and explicitly political. Where does this pressure come from? After all, no one is in my Lab (also known as my home office) telling me what kind of poems I should write, what kinds paintings I should paint. However, I think that when you inhabit multiple identities that are so politically valenced, there is a sort of tacit expectation that you will speak from and to that experience, if you choose to make art. Any other type of art is frivolous, given the sociopolitical conditions of these times.
Am I projecting? Possibly. Maybe, deep down, I am judging myself for giving time and energy to things that don’t advance the struggle.
Several months ago, I was at a gathering where everyone shares creative works. I shared some poems. They fell flat. The response was tepid. There was very little feedback or engagement (atypical for this gathering). It could have been because the poems weren’t that good (I do indeed write a lot of poems that aren’t that good), but I don’t think that was the case. Other folks followed with their contributions, which were no more (or less) interesting, lovely, or thought-provoking, yet those contributions generated a lot of lively conversation. I think it was because of the political overtones of what they shared.
I typically write poems that are delicate, observant, contemplative, and whimsical. Not the kind of poetry that will get snaps and a “Yasssss!” It’s just not that. And somewhow I feel like readers/listeners are surprised and disappointed by that.
Maybe there is something subversive about the kind of art I make, to the extent that it departs from what is expected of me, given my social location. But, mostly, I think it’s just unfortunate that art about my interiority, art about my everyday life and the regular shit around me will not be as enthusiastically received as the political art I could make.
Many days I have to persuade myself to keep making, even if other people don’t get it, don’t love it, or don’t get excited about it. Make what I want to make. Ironically, that kind of self-possession is quite political.