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Perpetually Uninspired: Hollow Art, Sour Souls
Open in case of art industry failures.
I periodically see the same plea and it’s one I’ve repeatedly made myself: we need more art that understands the strange times we’re living in.
Past generations had artists that voiced their feelings of rebellion, optimism, or anger toward their cultural moment. What about us? Most art today doesn’t exist in the same time as us. Contemporary art is timeless in the worst way; incessant refrains about fun and fucking, detached from the anxieties of our time unless those anxieties are convenient for making an institution-approved point. White cop shoots black man? Beyoncé album. White cop shoots white man? Club bangers continue on.
Where does the art we need come from when the art world itself is part of the cultural moment troubling us?
I struggle to find what I need in art today, so I usually turn to the past and lean on the classic calls for rebellion or unashamed pursuits of beauty that are hollow or rare today. It’s hard to make this argument without sounding like you’re continuing the age-old pattern of scoffing at your culture as uniquely terrible compared to every time before it.
I don’t think this is true for other things, though. There have been masterful recent films, pop music is still enjoyable in the way donuts are, and I’m grateful we have more access to communication and information than ever before. I sit in my air-conditioned, cozy home as planes casually and competently soar above me, taking people all over the world with fewer disasters than I often have while cooking.
I’m no cynic, dammit.
Nonetheless, I’m not impressed with the arts today. I feel less pure joy and more surprised relief when a good song belongs to a contemporary musician or a good big-budget film is released.
It’s not that there isn’t good contemporary art dealing with our weird cultural moment, it’s just that the art is relegated to the most indie of spheres and the artists sign a blood pact to be banned from any hint of commercial success if they too honestly assess our culture’s illness. Where serious and timeless art was once possible to find in the mainstream, nothing that satiates me is found there now.
Most mainstream art aims for a return on investment, shocking and entertaining, or performing the latest ideological fad. We’re having fun all the time and nothing feels honest or alive.
The art world’s problem is complex and partly due to bureaucratization, the fracturing of our media landscape, and other issues that are important, but whose importance still doesn’t satiate my need for art that understands what I’m feeling. I need art that knows what I need more than I do. Art that puts feelings of alienation, impending doom, and fragile determination to find beauty amid chaos into something I can take solace in. Art that merges the harshness of our moment with the beauty of creation. Art that says yes, you’ve seen what you’ve seen, and it’s as ugly and demoralizing as you think, but your capacity to see it is what makes you capable of facing it.
Instead, most art today leaves me overwhelmed, unnerved, or
When you’ve looked and looked but can’t find what you need, you’ve found the need. I worked with Clifton Duncan recently to create something different than what we usually get from the people who see our culture’s problems with clear eyes and are trying to find answers. Sometimes you don’t need an answer to the problem so much as you need the energy to keep facing it, and that’s what art does.
Art doesn’t spoonfeed you the answers to your problems, it gives you the push to keep seeking those answers.
Art can be a cure for 100 different ailments in 100 different people because it’s the pinnacle of freedom—you can take what you need or nothing at all.
That’s my offer to you with this poem and performance. I wrote it to voice what it feels like to live in a time where control and conformity have become norms and even the arts are afraid to rebel. Clifton’s performance is as strong as you’d expect from someone who’s borne the art world’s failure of courage and integrity.
We hope this piece gives you solace in knowing there are still artists who believe in
never biting your tongue and choosing creative freedom above a shiny reputation or commercial success.
If you’re as hungry for art that sees you in this strange moment as I am, this is for you.
What Makes the Soul Go Sour
I wander within myself,
a tangle of flaws, a collection of futures.
How can you know who I should be–
with dishonest eyes blinded by intensity,
the fog of fear obscuring you and me?
The sun doesn’t fight the rain,
the moon doesn’t fight the day.
I refuse to smother my spirit,
to save your ego from decay.
Who will know me,
if not me?
Conformity is a bodybag for who you could be.
Something soft within you rots,
the stench–your sacrifice to an insatiable mob.
You expect strangers to save your soul,
with their promises of sugar-sweet society,
but won’t face the struggle required
to become the you that you could be.
My being is mine.
Let me have the space and time,
to dig and fall, to spiral and crawl.
Face yourself instead of chasing my flaws.
Every human is a cracked mirror reflecting part of your reality.
Fight and curse the reflection,
but what exists persists whether or not you choose to see.
I’m not afraid to stumble under spotlight.
What’s true becomes more true,
despite all you might do to fight.
But I, too, will fight–
I’ll dig and fall, I’ll climb and claw,
howling an ancient song that rattles thrones.
Your eyes are blind to this road,
trees and seas parting for me alone.
some days seen only by sun and black sky,
the cost of finding what only you can own.
For the lonely, for the maligned:
Savor those reminders of living,
lest you cower in the corner, fading.
As I wander into the depths of myself,
my being becomes mine.
Moored on the sands of a shallow self,
many condemn the search for what they cannot find.
To choose honesty and liberty,
is to brave the outrage of those who chose falsity and misery.
Feigned perfection, weaponized rejection,
entire generations playing pretend.
Without the right to wander through light and dark,
there is nothing else left to defend.
(Written by Salomé Sibonex. Performed by Clifton Duncan).
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