Can we talk about this — about our responsibilities as citizens? Through our music we may function as healers, truth tellers, and conveyors of dreams — but we do this work in the context of our communities, our states, and our country. We are artists AND citizens.

At its best, our art-making occurs in the rarefied world of inspired imagination.

But our work is done with and for others in the ‘real world’ — the world where health insurance, taxes, and economic shifts all impact us. So it’s not enough to simply focus on your art, on perfecting your skills, building your audience, and boosting your career.

We all want to feel like our work has value, that it’s relevant, and that we’re making a contribution in the ‘real’ world.

To get what we want requires that we honor both the world of artistic inspiration AND that we participate in the real world. An artist’s job is to be able to travel back and forth between those two worlds.

Austin Kleon, in a recent post titled No Time for Despair, addressed the issue of the relationship between the artist and society. Quoting from historian Howard Zinn’s Artists in Times of War:

“‘The artist thinks, acts, performs music, and writes outside the framework that society has created. The artist may do no more than give us beauty, laughter, passion, surprise, and drama. I don’t mean to minimize these activities by saying the artist can do no more than this. The artist needn’t apologize, because by doing this, the artist is telling us what the world should be like, even if it isn’t that way now. The artist is taking us away from the moments of horror that we experience everyday — some days more than others — by showing us what is possible.’

But, Zinn says, that is not all the artist does:

‘[T]he artist can and should do more. In addition to creating works of art, the artist is also a citizen and a human being.'”

And yet, you may say to yourself, as I do at times, that ‘I’m so maxed out with what’s on my plate that I don’t have the bandwidth or the stomach to follow politics.’ The current state of political discourse gets me so angry and depressed that I avoid the news.

But here’s the thing: if we don’t get informed and participate as citizens, if we don’t exercise our right to vote, WE HAVE NO VOICE.

Our ‘voices’ as artists are our strength — the vehicle we use to create meaning, to connect, to find relevance. Every time you relinquish your voice — whether it’s by playing ‘safe’ in a performance, by not speaking up for what’s right, or by not voting — you betray yourself and your artistry.

Austin Kleon writes, “. . . it’s our our duty as artists and citizens to keep using our gifts and to keep using our voices to make the world a better place.”


Let’s do it, let’s cast our votes and use our voices!

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