Sometimes art struggles, even very good art. It emerges from the source with pure intent, hopeful that it contains some value, some message or potential to provoke thought that can and will make a difference even as it’s shared as a passive act of promotion. But then it falters, it finds an audience that circles and murmurs, offering praise or disdain with a detached separation, happy to admire or dismiss but still unaffected by the work. If that was always the case then it’s even more tangible now. Take something like The Wire, universally praised, endlessly discussed and held up as a totemic awareness of the state of the communities depicted. Brandished as whip for scouring the guilty conscience and framing the villains of the piece. The real people speak, actors give lectures, the producer meets the President, the whole enterprise becomes a watchword for the injustice of a system which even in itself bows down to take a measure of blame when confronted with the representation of it’s own actions.
But then nothing. The real people speak and nothing, the actors give lectures and nothing, the producer meets the President and nothing, guilt is recognised and even in its clarity continues to be ignored. The issue at the heart of it, the driving force of it, the message of it is marginalised and all that’s left is the circling curiosity of the crowd. We all get to enjoy the purchase of awareness, we all get to know what the problems are and add the understanding to the inventory of our possessions. Another act of ownership made abstract from problems which no one ever admits their share in, at least not enough to do anything about them. It’s defeating and not at all unique. Almost every book, film, show, exhibition or talk which contains any form of unspoken plea for action and change becomes muted into an artefact to be hoarded. A prize for those who mistake interest for concern and awareness for understanding. All the while leaving the same handful, the same struggling few to actually work towards solutions.
That’s understandable in most. After all from such an absolute distance what can be gleaned from artistic enlightenment other than a rarefied sense of awareness? The message exists exactly because the separation makes the truth so incomprehensible and blurred never mind the limitations of waking up every day and facing a world which, even before understanding it, seems already to be defeating our better selves. For others though that explanation can’t exist, any more than whatever value they see in their own indifferent, or at least shallow, understanding. There are those who can act and don’t, those who should be driven and aren’t, those who should beat themselves for their own culpability but instead do nothing but smilingly nod at their guilt. I suppose, if nothing else, the good art creates a hammer to use against them. A reminder that, even though they fail through their own lack of effort, they were warned, they were shown and there is no excuse for what came next. That’s a familiar outcome though, not much more. Anger is already the currency we have, resentment is already the comfort and at least once it’d be good to see those underdog attempts at levelling the field replaced by a positive passion for what can be done and what is allowed to be done. Otherwise the art that attempts to translate loses value and what comes next will be beyond culture, for better or worse.