Dewitt Jones often makes the point that the mantra of the National Geographic is “celebrate what’s right in the world”. He even has a TED talk about it. At this point in history focusing on what’s right seems like a great idea.
Ah, National Geographic. What a great institution with an excellent brand image. How many of us suspect our parent’s houses are held up mainly by the stacks of yellow magazines in the basement? If you are old enough you remember eagerly claiming your time to read each issue cover to cover when it arrived. The photography was amazing and the photographers were idols to us aspiring artists.
I suspect Mr. Jones is right that one reason for it’s success is that it was positive, uplifting, showing the good side of places and issues. That seems so foreign in today’s world. It is expected now to show how bad everything is. To show the dark and depressing and gloomy side of every issue. Where are you when we need you, National Geographic?
Some things are depressing
It is absolutely true that there is disease, poverty, instability, pollution, economic uncertainty and political division all around. But does that need to be what we’re focused on? Is it really healthy and helpful? If we just moan about it without doing anything doesn’t that just make us more depressed?
Dr. Martin Luther King said “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” I believe this to be a very true statement.
When we focus all our attention on how bad things are then everything seems bad. The attitude pervades our life, polluting all we see. That is a choice.
Doesn’t it seem that art, too, suffers from darkness and hate these days? There is a lot of dark, empty art. Like many artists seem caught up in depression and can only create brooding, depressing work. Does it have to be ugly now days to be art? Why?
And we are told that everything has to support a social cause, otherwise it is not worthwhile. Who says? There are a lot of great causes, and a lot of bad ones. What you choose to support is your decision. But art should transcend the cause. Art should be art independent of the social or cultural context. If you are trying to produce art mainly in service to a cause, it might be propaganda. I am passionate about some causes, but they only indirectly influence my art.
Can anything be done?
Is the world too far gone to change? Does an individual have any power to effect things?
I can’t change the world. I can only change me. The world is made up of individuals and each of us can make our own decisions about our values and behavior. Are you restricted to doing certain things or believing certain ways because your Facebook crowd says so? Break free. Are you going to hate everyone who doesn’t believe in your cause because a powerful influence leader says to? Run away.
Be yourself. Make your own decisions.
The sources of information we follow have a huge influence on our life. I won’t get into an argument about “fake news”, but a safe starting point is to believe that most everything you hear is wrong, or at least biased. So listen to many viewpoints and make your own decision. Be a grownup. That builds personal integrity.
If the information you follow is talking about how terrible events or people are but not offering practical and positive solutions to improve things, they are just spreading fear and division. We have enough of that. Stand up for yourself. Go your own way. It doesn’t matter how famous or respected they are.
This blog is supposed to be about art. Being an artist exposes our beliefs and outlooks to the world. What has yours been looking like lately? What do you respond to? Writing about his WW2 years in Nazi Paris, Picasso said the artist “is a political being, constantly aware of the heart-breaking, passionate, or delightful things that happen in the world, shaping himself completely in their image.”
I suggest we practice being positive and encouraging. Both in our art and our lives. Not just responding to what happens but consciously shaping our response. Being positive is not a Pollyanna, head-in-the-sand avoidance of the pain that is around. It is an effort to make what we touch better. To make people around us better and more able to cope with life. And to make ourself better.
What do you love? What do you consider good and beautiful? Show it in your art. Help people see something uplifting. Bring joy, not sorrow.
Maybe National Geographic had the right idea. Maybe focusing on what is right with the world would do a lot more good than harm.
Be an individual. Be an artist. Don’t be afraid to follow your own values and beliefs. Try to be a positive influence on everyone who sees your work.