I don’t think about this question very often because I’ve been an artist so long now that I equate “Why make art?” with “Why breathe?” In fact, I don’t think about this question at all.
But I was listening to the news for the first time in months—I’ve been on a news blackout basically since my daughter announced her presence inside of me (which she did by demanding a beef burrito and sending a man with her namesake on his T-shirt to take my order, true story)—and as I listened to the news, I thought, here’s why I haven’t bothered to keep tabs on anything but women’s rights and climate change for the last three years. The headlines are always the same, and they haven’t changed for the last two millenia, at least. To read political news is to read Suetonius with the names changed (sometimes not even that); to read world news is to read the Old Testament (trouble down Palestine? Again?); to read gossip news is to read The Tale of Genji (he left her for another woman? Again?).
So I keep tabs on women’s rights (under attack again, it’s like reading the Old Testament) and climate change (getting weird, our bad, we’re going to have to adapt).
As I listened, however, it occurred to me that really it was like reading Ozymandias. These wars, these appalling choices made by people who are obviously not thinking clearly, they create monuments that will not last. In fact, nothing we do lasts. All of it turns back into stardust and the whole thing starts over again. Most of what we do doesn’t even outlast our individual, humble lives.
Which is why we should all immediately stop doing anything that doesn’t bring joy or sustenance to us or others. Or, as Cynthia Heimel says, “We must eschew all things trivial and embrace all things frivolous.” War? Right out. Environmental destruction? Heck no.
On the other hand, art? Yes. Music? Yes. Writing? Yes. Dance? Yes! Yes! This is one of the ways to answer the question “Why make art?” when someone asks you. Or when they look at you blankly when you tell them you want to be an artist. Or when they ask, “But how will you make a living?” Wave your hands at that. Tell them you’re reading Mr Money Mustache and figuring that one out, but in the meantime you need to make art for tons of reasons, but not least because, since nothing we do is going to last, you would like to bring joy and sustenance to more than just yourself. And maybe because you think Ozymandias is a great but dreary poem, and there are others to be written.
What do you think of this idea? What are your own literary equivalents for the news?