Art in the Age of Understanding by Joel Worford

Art shifts with culture while culture shifts with art—making it difficult for us to determine which one needs to change first when we decide something needs to change.

The popular idea that the artistic community holds the progressive mentalities while everybody else lags behind is largely a misconception.

Consider this: the lead single from Bruno Mars’ 24K Magic contains the clearly misogynistic line “bad bitches and their ugly ass friends,” among others, yet that didn’t stop the song from winning Record of the Year or from selling over one million units in less than 12 months. Some would argue that the success of Mars’ music, along with the success of a number of popular Hip-Hop, Country, RnB and Rock artists who play large stadiums and sell millions of records every year, regardless of the antiquated stance their music may take towards women, or the problematic ways they may represent race and/or sexuality comes down to the difference between popular music circles and underground music circles. This idea falls apart, however, when one considers that, even within the independent music scene, artists tend to separate themselves by genre—genres built around cultures whose make-up often reflects the prejudices and racial distinctions of the United States’ socio-economic situation.

As art shifts and shapes with culture, its communities grapple with the cultural climate of the time, just like any other group.

So how are movements such as Black Lives Matter and #MeToo affecting artists? Surely the same musicians who perform at The Women’s March and speak out against bigotry and hate on social media are taking such ideas into account while they’re producing and presenting their art?

I believe the difference is small, yet substantial in the way that it manifests. I listen to Bruno Mars’ new album and enjoy the 90s throwback style quite a bit, yet as a working musician and singer-songwriter myself, I would never cover the song 24K Magic, because that one line about “bad bitches and their ugly ass friends” makes me uncomfortable. The reason it makes me uncomfortable is because I understand that it makes some of my friends who are women uncomfortable. This understanding is crucial, and represents the moment where the conversations brought to the forefront by Black Lives Matter and #MeToo begin to influence culture. As people begin to understand one another differently, culture will shift to accommodate, and so will art. When I listen to Bruno Mars’ new album, I skip that song, because the moments of misogyny take me out of the album’s groovaliciousness and remind me of the stories that my roommate tells about her negative experiences with men—some of whom surely mistreat women because they hold mentalities similar to the ones Mars glorifies in his song.

Skipping that song is my choice, just like it was Bruno Mars’ choice to write that line, record ’24K Magic,’ and include it on his album.

Both choices are valid—to regulate art and creation would be to regulate conversation, and such artistic stifling isn’t conducive to understanding. Our choices are just different, and reflect different ideas. I wouldn’t say that my choice is so much an act of protest as it is an act of necessity. Why should I listen to a song if it makes me uncomfortable? With that, you could ask—why should Bruno Mars change his song if he feels comfortable with it? Plenty of people, both men and women, love the song, and that line.

As society shifts in response to conversations on human rights and morality, the way we interact with each other will change, and the way we interact with art will change. Lyrics deemed bigoted or misogynistic will cause songs to fall out of the mainstream, and at that point, it will be the artist’s choice on whether to change with society, or to try and change it back.

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Joel Worford is a singer-songwriter from Richmond, Virginia. He currently studies English at Longwood University with a concentration in Creative Writing. Joel’s short story “The Naked Eye” appears in the 2017 edition of Good Works Review.

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Who We Are & Why We Care: WFP Member Profile: Courtney Rose

Hi! My name is Courtney Rose and I am an aspiring wedding planner and flash writer from Richmond, as well as a member of the Central Virginia Chapter of Writing for Peace.

As an only child growing up in a single-parent household, I have always been curious about the concept of family—what it means for me, as well as for others, and for humanity in general (For example: For me, the idea of family is inherently female.). This led me to pursue a career in marriage where I have the opportunity to start two people off on the right foot through their wedding, most people’s idea of the traditional start of a “family.”

Family dynamics tend to be prominent in my writing. I have always been a very observant person, and, as a child, I noticed how different my friends’ home lives were from mine—sometimes better, sometimes much, much worse. I became hyper aware of divorce, abuse, hunger, and homelessness. My writing is an extension of that hyper-awareness: how family is defined, and how the idea of family survives (or doesn’t) in suffering.

I am involved in Writing for Peace because words have the power to open eyes and hearts. Too often we use words to divide us, but I believe that a far better purpose for our words is to connect us. Peaceful activism is so important in our society, perhaps now more than ever. Not everyone has money or time to donate to a cause, but everyone has a voice.

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Start a Writing for Peace Chapter Where You Are!

How to Start a Writing For Peace Chapter

We are so excited and honored to have communities across the country who are committed to promoting empathy and peace through creative writing. Peace takes on many different meanings, be it food and water access, affordable housing, gender equality, anti-racism, and much more. Peace should be global, but it does not have to take on a singular definition to be attainable. In order to show how varied these meanings of peace can be, we are introducing regional Writing For Peace chapters to showcase how different communities from all over the country dedicate themselves to peace, and how creative writing and education serve as tools for peace and activism at large.

Regional Writing For Peace Chapters will allow for community members to determine the most pressing issues at hand within those regions, to have access to the creative outlet that communicates those issues, and then via multiple forms of communication, drawing on the skills of writer-members, to share those regional issues with a larger community that fosters and speaks on solidarity. We want to provide awareness, foster education, and commit ourselves to peaceful action...."

More Details at Writing For Peace National

 

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