The Responsibility of Art

Talent is not the sole purview of the good. That the world has such conflict in it and has faced serious threats from the wicked multiple times is testament to the ability of the evil, despite what we like to imagine of the wicked as well-versed only in the ugliest aspects of life. It’s not just in practical matters that their talents reside either, not just in efficiency or intelligence or in manipulating others that the bad can excel. Those who are cruel, who strive to hurt others, who care only for their personal gain have their artists too. They have their poets and their orators and their sculptors and their musicians. Artistic talent does not favor the good.

What, then, do I do with this? If artistic talent doesn’t make one good, after all, it’s also clear an artist needs to be careful lest his or her work become something ugly. Every time I put words on a page or a painter puts pigment on a canvas, there is no guarantee what we make will not hurt someone deeply. Art is not biased towards our kinder natures, is not necessarily more powerful when preaching compassion or hope or love, and there's something terrifying in this. I could write a poem that’s funny or powerful or even beautiful that also peddles hate and fear and cruelty, and what do I do with that?

I suppose I do the only thing I can, and place my faith in other people. Not that all other people who write well or beautifully will also write good things, no, the stakes are too high for that. Instead, I’ll trust in the lives of other people to be just as full and rich as mine, and that knowing this can help me see the beauty in them that all art which helps the world is built from. I’ll trust in those I know and love to tell me when my writing pushes pain or fear or hate, as unintentional as that my be. I place my faith in others to make my art good, and I use that art to fight against those who would use their own gifts for worse ends.

So no, I cannot rest assured that just because I write, just because I do something I have the boldness to name art, that what I write is good. I cannot be complacent that others who write beautifully will write things that are good. Good, and even great, writing can hurt profoundly, and I must take care not only to make sure that my writing never does so, but to actively fight against those who will use their own art to do so. I cannot simply take the good for granted. But if I remember that everyone has a story at least as rich as my own, I know the impact of the words I put down, and I listen to others, I can ensure that my writing is something good. And if it is, then writing it is something worthwhile.

With excitement and optimism,

Alex