What’s an Artist to Do in These Troubled Times? Ask Corbett

What’s an Artist To Do in These Troubled Times?

By Corbett Barklie

Photo by Corbett Barklie


Feeling a little tense lately? Afraid the end of the world might be looming for real? Between threats to the environment, equality, healthcare, the free press, immigration, foreign affairs, science, and civility, you should feel nervous.

Compound the understandable fear of the future with the incomprehensible uncertainty of the present brought about by a single unstable personality representing himself as the most powerful man in the world and it’s perfectly understandable that national issues are impacting each of us on deeply personal levels.

We have collectively fallen down a societal, political and moral rabbit hole and most of us want like hell to find a way out of it.

And, making matters worse, we are presented with so many options for involvement and activism – petitions to sign, marches and rallies to attend, posters to make – it’s all too overwhelming!

Artist, Center Yourself

So you want to make a difference, be involved, work for change, do it all? You can’t. And you shouldn’t. If you are reading this and you are an artist, I want you to know that you have a single role to play in the midst of all this chaos and that role is to be an artist.

In many ancient cultures the natural role of the artist in society was that of leader, healer, mystic. I believe that now is the time for artists to once again, without hesitation, embrace this role. Here’s a quote from Gifts of the Muse, Reframing the Debate about the Benefits of the Arts, a report by the Rand Corporation, “We think that art can best be understood as a communicative cycle in which the artist draws upon two unusual gifts – a capacity for vivid personal experience of the world, and a capacity to express that experience through a particular artistic medium.” Let that sink in.

Artists Have Abilities That Most People Don’t Possess

Throughout history the unique artistic and interpretive capacities of creative people have been critically important in moments of crisis. Think back to 9/11 and note how the nation instinctively turned to its artists for a song or a poem. Only the artist can create a bridge that spans from individual suffering to communal understanding. This invaluable gift has the power to make inner reality public and by doing so alleviates isolation.

Think about the obvious role artists play at funerals and weddings. Personally, a single note played from a bag pipe will summon up strangely powerful emotions – I’m weeping now just thinking about the sound.

The Artists’ Call to Action

Now is the time to put down your placards, take a break from signing petitions and marching, turn off the news, and run fast to your rehearsal halls and studios. Bring together your artistic clan and create a shared understanding of the crucial leadership role you can play now by reaching deep into yourself to re-direct fear, frustration, and uncertainty into creativity and artistic product. Use your gifts.