2017 in Review: State of Art

A whole year’s worth of reflection and observation, and this is all I can come up with: Where does art come from?

Does the question matter, given the state of today’s world, both economically and socially? Does this question affect divisiveness, racism and misogyny? If we took a moment to reflect on the question, “Where does art come from?” would deeper truths prevail? With a broad mind, I think they would.

Like most American’s, 2017 did not feature my favorite collection of headlines. And when the outside world became too much to bear, I retreated into the arts where pain is conveniently laid out like a scarred terrain and joy is forcibly ignited in response to darkness. Music, books, television, comedy, anything. As complex and uncertain the emotions are that inspire these works, art sure makes them more understandable.

I write my music reviews every year with some all-encompassing state-of-things analysis, and 2017 was too big a mess to corral. I dumped two other completed essays to get to this one and wasted who knows how many hours. Eventually I became overburdened with my own losses, compounded by my obsession with inspiration.

What influences an artist to play their first key? What compels an artist to compose an entire song? How did an artist come up with that verse? Was that guitar solo a freestyle? Was this rhyme scheme intentional? Why do artists keep making music? What would make an artist stop?

Why do I do this?

And down the spiral I went.

True art has to be born from something raw – an emotional cause and effect. Art is a reflection of the human condition, as exemplified in Michelangelo’s humbling The Creation of Adam, John Steinbeck’s existential East of Eden, or Led Zeppelin’s ethereal “Stairway to Heaven.” It’s worth mentioning that, at the time, these were not powerful men producing powerful pieces. Their art made them notable.

Have you ever thought of what kind of era William Shakespeare had to endure to craft a tale as brutal as Hamlet or depressing as Romeo and Juliet? How many sacrifices to his social life and physical health did Steve Jobs have to make to develop that technology in that phone of yours? What madness had descended up Kurt Cobain by the time Nirvana released In Utero?

So I ask again, but with proper grammar: From where does art come?

There are forces at work here – the limitless power to create something from nothing. The power to understand what it is to be a human being. But these forces are not prevalent where they need to be.

Do the powerful and the wealthy care about what makes one pen a verse? Do our leaders care about where one finds motivation and the strength to endure economic and emotional hardship? Do they care about what really matters to people? They have proven with each pocket-driven decision that they do not. Shoot, they don’t even value science.

Art is a state of being. Art tells us what we value, what we endure and who we become. Art should exist and be respected more than it currently is. So, for those who do not know, what is art? Is it a song or a painting or a poem? Yes, but it can be so much more. Art can be a form of happiness and sadness. Art is political. Art is personal.

A sign raised high protesting policies that go against basic human rights. Donating time and money to those less fortunate than you. Two men or two women saying “I do.”  This is art.

A man of power putting his fingers on any part of a woman he pleases. Leaders treating their people as a means to feed their greed. The fear of how much can be undone in four years. This is where art comes from.

A wall. A pipeline. Internet content discrimination. This is not art.

Fear of men who don white sheets and wave confederate flags. The reversal of progress. A frantic white cop shooting an unarmed, innocent black man. This is where art comes from.

A football player’s knee on the ground during our nation’s anthem. A black fist in the air and an Olympic medal around the neck.  A dream that all men are created equal. This is art.

Witnessing your mother hold her husband’s hand as he breathes his last breath. Feeling your little boy’s kick through your wife’s stomach for the first time. Reconciling that with death also comes life. This is where art comes from.

Standing up for what you believe in. Living with basic human decency. Telling someone “I love you.” That, my friends, is art.

So I will ask one more time, and I hope you have an answer: Where does art come from?

Editor’s Note: I intended for this piece to preface my 2017 Music Review, but I separated them out of respect to outside contributors. Think of these, in conjunction with the Top Songs of 2017, as parts of a whole that was 2017. And keep that question in mind.

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