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Tile by Tile: The Politics of Art

Todd Potter, Sports Editor

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  After reading If This Isn’t Nice, What Is?, a collection of graduation speeches that American author Kurt Vonnegut gave and Dan Wakefield selected, I realized art’s ability to unite, inspire, or pacify makes the creation of art political.

  Because the creation of art requires one’s expression, art can promote social justice.  As shown by the recent Grammy Awards, people are bound to create art about issues they care about such as police brutality, suicide, immigration, and sexual assault in order to ensure others learn about something from another perspective other than their newsfeed.  

  The sharing of this art may change people’s perspectives and lead to political activism, humanizing the people who cannot turn off the TV to avoid this nation’s problems.

  But, art can also distract from social justice, making people feel like they cannot fight against the bureaucracy of the political process.  

  During a graduation speech to the class of 1972 at the State University of New York at Albany, Vonnegut argued, “One of the principle uses of the arts in this and many other modern countries is to confuse the uneducated and the powerless and the poor.”  If people who lack political power or money leave a museum or concert hall confused, the arts have done their job, making them believe they are inferior: unable to appreciate or relate to celebrations of human expression.  

  In this instance, these arts, supported by multi-millionaire donors, make people believe the myth that only people with a sufficient amount of power or money can create something worth sharing or make a difference, but this is terribly untrue.

  From how people interact with others or choose how to tell a story, everyone can make a difference.  People do not need power, fame, or money in order to express themselves in the studio, on the canvas, on the page, or in the theater.  All they need is the courage to lend their voices, their unique perspectives, to the chorus, slowly changing the world.

  Vonnegut said, “The secret ingredient in my books is, there has never been a villain.”  By failing to provide readers with a person they can blame the his novels’ conflicts on, Vonnegut allows people to see that there are no villains in real life determined to take over the world.  

  When we begin to acknowledge the fact an individual person or individual groups of people are not the primary cause of evil, we may begin to progress politically and work across party lines, refusing to surrender to the idea of an us-versus-them mentality.

   Every interaction we have with the world may seem simple, like not having a villain in a story, but small things like this can make a big difference.  

  We all create art through the ideas, stories, and relationships we decide to paint onto the canvas of the world, forming communities around this art.  All given a part in the play, we develop unlikely friendships with strangers, talk about issues we care about, and share ourselves through our creations.       

  Day by day, we write the narrative of history together, but we get to choose its point-of-view.  Do we focus on the beach full of starfish or each starfish we throw back into the sea?

  May we all acknowledge that we cannot bring order to the whole universe, roll up our sleeves, pick a blank tile on the mosaic, and make it perfect instead of standing aback, overwhelmed by the big picture.  May we change the world, tile by tile, heart by heart, celebrating our small victories by pausing every once in a while to say aloud, as Kurt Vonnegut’s uncle Alex did, “If this isn’t nice, what is?”

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Tile by Tile: The Politics of Art