A Somewhat Superficial Introduction
May I preface my research notes and thought splatterings by explaining my context and some of my intension in this project of study.
I am a performance poet who uses spoken word and visual art to engage in social commentary. I do this part time as I also make a living teaching English, Media and Film studies.
My aims and intentions will become increasingly clear as I read and research further and my intended outcome will, no doubt, change many times. In premise though, my primary driver is simple – indeed it is the same core dilemma of much critical thinking – I am primarily concerned with ‘Power’ and the ways in which people are ‘controlled’ and how our communities and cultures are sustained and maintained according to ‘unjust’ structures. Fear, consumerism, diversion and the pursuit of wealth are but some of the characteristics of our society that appear evident from personal experience, from the stories I have shared with other artists and thinkers and indeed from their overwhelming presence in the spheres of philosophy, sociology, psychology and cultural theory.
Historically, art has played a vital role in articulating alternative ideologies and communicating a subversive call to ‘the people’. More recently, folk, jazz and blues music, the beatnik movement and the French films of the ‘Nouvelle Vague’ have made space for minority opinion, controversial ideology and alternative values.
“Art, it seems to me, is against suicide and that’s a value… That’s what art is about, it’s somewhere about hope… it could be one of art’s jobs to make us feel more life is worth having.” [Adam Phillips, ‘Going Sane’]
The current teenage and young adult generation is marked by suicide. Suicide is now the second most common cause of death amongst young people. The suicide rate for youth has risen by over 50 per cent over the past 20 years [information taken from Inger Hatloy, Mind, 2004]. If indeed professor Lang was right in his assertion that our society is ‘sick’ and if art is about ‘hope’ and is able to ‘renew’ then there is a need for alternative and political art now more than ever in our post-modern, lonely context of a consumer culture growing exponentially out of control.
Our ‘style over content’ popular culture may be aesthetically ‘cool’, however it follows that current artistic production may also be shallow and void of meaning beyond its purpose as commodity for sale. The challenge facing what Phillips calls ‘the new sane artist’, and certainly the challenge I feel personally in my creative pursuits and performances, is how to stay accessible, whilst conveying the ‘hopeful’ and ‘renewing’ communications that remedy the ills of an increasingly suicide-inducing ‘for sale’ society. Art that is not product or commodity, art that does not pursue money and market, art that seeks to question, encourage and renew is ultimately subversive.