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“The highest result of education is tolerance.” – Helen Keller
I have had the privilege of meeting many artists over the years, but I have seen far more art than the number of artists I can claim to know. Of those artists I have met, however, about the only thing they have in common is a love of the arts, whether they be visual, musical, kinetic, or literary. Most of them passionately believe in one’s right to express one’s self without restriction or without regard as to how the expression may be received. Quite a few would impose self-restrictions, however, because of personal beliefs that may be colored by spiritual, political, or social ideas and experience. With very few exceptions, I would hesitate to call any of them anything other than artists. Their personal beliefs almost always seep into the work, but these are not what define them as artists.
Lately, especially within the United States, there have been attempts to politicize the arts along with just about everything else. Education, libraries, the internet, religion, books, the media, practically every aspect of society has been pulled into this political maelstrom. Underneath it all lays a single motivation, which is fear: the fear that someone or some group will gain the upper hand and exert control over everyone else. In short, the conspiracy theorists, be they on the right or the left, are in their heyday.
Personally, I’ve been attracted to the arts because in their various forms they give me ways of seeing and understanding the experience and thoughts of others. I can step outside of my own limited understanding and get a glimpse of the world from a different perspective. Literature is perfectly suited for this. For example, I can take real life journeys along with Joan Dideon in The Year of Magical Thinking or Annie Dillard in An American Childhood. I can travel the seas via whaling ship through Herman Melville’s Moby Dick or in a lifeboat with a tiger in Yann Martel’s The Life of Pi. If I go to a good art museum, I can peruse the art of numerous cultures within the space of an afternoon, or I can visit various galleries to see what current artists are doing and displaying. When I engage with the work, I learn something about the artists and about myself. My world is enlarged rather than diminished even if what the artist shows me is limited in range or contrary to my own world view, for that world view has just been altered by the encounter with the art.
Maybe I don’t like what I see or read or hear. I can critique whatever is before me at any given moment. The artist knows this as well as I. No one is forcing me to look, and I choose the moment to engage or disengage. I also have the option to respond in some way limited only by my own imagination. I may become an avid networker promoting artwork or artist or show through word of mouth or by way of some social media platform. I may critique in the same manner. My own experience will always take precedence over what others may think or feel about certain work although I may consider their opinion, especially if it is thoughtfully presented.
Where I personally draw the line, however, is when an artist, viewer, or critic attempts to impose a particular belief or to infringe on my right to experience for myself. Having educated myself in artistic expression and having chosen to continue that process, I am willing to look and listen, but I always reserve the right to judge for myself. That judgment may sometimes be tempered through dialogue, but I trust that it is always, insofar as possible, informed by an educated eye and an openness to learning something new. In my estimation, the best art will support inquiry while also supporting new ways of seeing and understanding. I strive for my own artistic expressions to do as much.
Editor's Note: You can view the original post on Donald's blog.