Can art change the world? No, but it can suggest what needs to change. Art can motivate us to change the world. The question is, what will we do to fulfill the promises of art?
What is art? Art is (A) the choice not to do anything other than art, at least for the time it takes to make art, and (B) the thing or notion or event that has been created in that time. If everyone made art there would be less conflict and fewer wars. That is probably true, though artists or at least poets are fond of arguing. Still, one cannot force people to make art or legislate such a thing, and arguments among artists are at most a distraction. The world little notes what a person thinks about what they do.
We try though, in subtle ways, to suggest that people should be creative to make art, to be original, to express their inner selves, etc. And this is good in some ways, but while the rest of us are pondering art projects those in power are pondering how to acquire more power. And the wonder is that everyone is successful. There is more art in the world now, I think - visual renderings, books, music - all to various purposes and offerings differing degrees of interest - than ever before, while power is held by fewer persons than ever before. And, unlike art, power is pure. There is no good, bad, or indifferent power. It delivers on its purpose every time.
Is art then simply a form of consolation or promise? Is it, after all, our modern religion, the thing we turn to as we once turned to prayer? Holding on to hope, plying the keyboard, the sable brush, the stylus, as once we fingered the beads of the Rosary? I think so. I think that art is, after all, a form of consolation and promise. No art is the exact form or model for what the world should be if the world were just, but in an unjust world art, like prayer, is the most suitable form for stating for ourselves what the world should be. I should say art and prayer can be that, but not all art and not all prayers are necessarily oriented toward a just society. We should be careful as individuals and as a society not to treat all art as sacred, nor all prayers as holy. There is a great deal of personal interest that enters into our prayers and our art.
But we will make art, aiming at what is true art. We will not call it holy or sacred, but we will aim to make it true. We know that what is true is holy, but we are not the ones to judge. We will do our part. We make art because no activity serves so well to put what's in our heart before all mankind. And we will continue to pray, in word or spirit, because no activity serves so well to put what's in our heart before God. We care for our neighbor and we serve the truth. It is all really very simple.
And what about change? That too is a personal and communal decision. We cannot be mere entertainment or solace. We must endeavor to own, to a just degree - neither too much or too little - the tools we use to create and the means by which we live. We must set an example, not only in rendering the truth of the human heart, its consolations and promise, but in acting to turn that promise into a reality. Poverty, war, violence, and greed insult the heart. As long as they exist, we have failed art as we have failed the truth.
Therefore, I would like to suggest an expansion of the definition of art. Art is (A) the choice not to do anything other than art, at least for the time it takes to make art, (B) the thing or notion or event that has been created in that time, and (C) art is what is done about the art, or how we follow through. If we merely visit art - on the museum wall, in a chapbook, on Facebook postings - and do nothing to seize the power that guarantees freedom for all humankind, then we will have lost time and opportunity while other consolidate and strengthen their hold on an unjust world. We will be guilty of compliance, voicing empty prayers from broken hearts.