This vlog was recorded a week before the Paris and Beirut terrorist attacks but I wanted to use this written post to share my deepest sympathies with the families of the victims of those cowardly acts and use it also as an opportunity to continue to engage us in conversations about what it truly means to be an artist and citizen of this planet.
There were so many moving tributes to the victims ”“ from Cecily Strong’s simple and heartfelt opening monologue on Saturday Night Live to Madonna’s dedicated concert performance in Stockholm, Sweden, singing a beautiful rendition of “Like A Prayer.”
I immediately thought how tragedy ”“ and conversely the power of art in a society that desperately needs more loving artistic expression ”“ can be reinterpreted in the moment. So “Like a Prayer”, for example, suddenly has huge emotional significance when sung in the aftermath of a tragedy.
It moves from being a catchy pop song first heard in 1989 (!) ”“ when it created such an uproar because of it’s exploration of Catholicism, race and bigotry all draped in a retro Rebel Without A Cause feel with a dancing Baptist choir, a crying African-American saint, and Madonna as . . . well . . . the Madonna–Virgin Mary dancing in front of burning crucifixes ”“ to something else entirely.
(It also seems so silly now that the Catholic Church and so many conservative leaders were up in arms over the music video and Pepsi went so far as to drop their contract with her. I guess it’s also sadly ironic that anything to do with religion still creates such destructive reprisals in people today.)
So now that song from 26 years ago becomes a stirring, emotional, hands-outstretched humble offering of healing and love to the City of Light.
And in that moment, you capture the universal power of what art itself is and can be.
It’s life. It’s a response to and a reflection of that which is ephemeral and always changing.
Life. Existence. Our being here.
I was asked in the above-embedded video about the “existential meaning of the work” we are doing at AMAW. After the tragedy that occurred, it made me realize more than ever that that is the real exploration of being an actor. Of being alive.
A philosophy of existentialism is an exploration of what it means to be human. The search for meaning and the journey toward discovering self.
That. Is. Acting. Period.
And it also liberates us into being free thinkers ”“ and empowers us to stand up against a society or individuals who try to impose religious or secular world-views on others (whether through dogma or violent acts), thereby dehumanizing people.
The irony is these violent acts of depravity are being created out of environments that have lost their connection to art. They are devoid of wonder. Of mystery. There is no poetry. No dance. No freedom of expression.
That then also illustrates the power of (arts) education.
If a terrorist cell is fertilizing and cultivating a young mind with nothing but images of war and jihad extremism and hate ”“ there is no understanding, then, of the beauty of a flower. Or two ballet dancers in a pas de deux.
There is only brainwashing.
There is no listening to the melodies of Mozart or looking at a Picasso.
There is only fear and hate mongering.
There is no room in a young person’s mind to grasp the power of two actors sharing a moment spontaneously that leads to a kiss, or discussing what it’s like to survive genocide.
This is the power of art. This is why it has to be sustained, cultivated, practiced, expressed, shared. Everywhere.
A child is not a barbarian. He is an artist. He is only taught and trained (by non-artists) to be that which goes against his nature.
Art matters. More than at the obvious level in which we often engage with it. You, who create art, matter. In a world that can be healed through art ”“ you have power.
When artists send a message that acts of destruction, violence and terror cannot silence our expressions of love and freedom and inspiration ”“ it is to me, one of the most powerful, galvanizing forces of good celebrating life.
So create your art powerfully, and stop listening to people who say you can’t or it’s not important or you’re not “fill-in-the-blank” enough.
Make art as if our lives depended on it.
Because it does.