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Hindsight blog

Muse on participatory democracy and the roles of all citizens including students, artists, the media, and of course, politicians. Presented by the Weisman Art Museum with the exhibition "Hindsight is Always 20/20".

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Life, Art and the Willing Suspension of Disbelief

“It is now life, and not art, that requires the willing suspension of disbelief.?

So wrote Lionel Trilling in a 1955 essay titled "The Novel Alive or Dead." Trilling uses the potential demise of the novel to explore the complexities of attempting creative work at a time when “the actuality of the world is so very intense and so very strange that the figments of the imagination cannot compete with it.? In 1955 Disneyland opened, the McDonald’s fast food chain was launched, Congress authorized all US currency and coins to say "In God We Trust", and the United States started down the path to war by sending over $200 million in aid (and covert military advisors) to Vietnam.

Looking at the world today one might say it’s déjà-vu all over again.

As a citizen I often feel that everyday life defies the imagination. I struggle with a growing sense of disbelief and disempowerment. The ongoing war in Iraq, the slow eroding of our civil rights post 9-11, global warming, and the current financial crisis are just a few of the issues that make my head spin on a regular basis. And I haven’t even mentioned the migraine inducing squawk of talk radio, the e-fascination of Twitter culture and the stranger-than-life appeal of online avatar communities like SecondLife. Reality exhausts me. Where’s the head-sized hole with my name on it?

But, gentle reader, here’s the delicious dichotomy: as a citizen I often feel beaten and powerless but as an artist I feel challenged and fierce. I’ll admit I’m haunted by the specter of relevancy and the possibility that, as Trilling so eloquently puts it, the figments of my imagination can’t compete with the photographs of Abu Ghraib or the worm guzzling contestants on Fear Factor. Talk about performance art! However, righteous motivation trumps my doubt-filled inner critic (almost) every time.

So here’s my question du jour:

Has an exhibition or single work of art, piece of music, or live performance ever been the catalyst for a personal epiphany and inspired YOU to take a stand, take action, or take up a cause?

I’ll read and respond to your comments and will be back soon to share some of the art, theater and music that changed my life – and why.


Sure, works of art are important catalysts for change. As an artist I see a lot of energy is transferred to me by the exhibition of my films and by my performances. I would hope that the viewers also get their "batteries" charged by seeing art which inspires them. I remember seeing "Red Room" by Matisse and being amazed by the sheer genius of that painting. Art is a vehicle for the creative energy of our society. It is through artists that change and alternative ideas trickle through the collective cortex.

I can rememeber 2 things that made a huge impression on me: Judy Chicago's Dinner Party exhibition and "Angels in America". The First because I was a teenager struggling with what/who to be, and I had never heard of most of the women/artists that Chicago made settings for. It made me want to make art myself, and to read about the history of women in this country.

I saw "Angels in America" in Chicago during its run in the late 90s along with two gay friends who were mourning the loss of another friend. It was cathartic for everyone and it solidified my support for gay rights and advocacy for equal right for everyone.

I see art everywhere, in my neighborhood, on the street... people creating art without even realizing it. I love the hand lettered protest signs and the masks and political graffiti. The rawer the better.

The observation that our reality has many aspects stranger than fiction is a poignant one. The question of particular works of art that have motivated me to action a challenging one. I so often interact with art in a place, time, and context that is much better suited to thought than action. Each is necessary for the other. I would answer this question by describing the experience of acting out my support for Howard Dean shortly after the Iowa caucus when the air suddenly deflated from his political balloon. His website encouraged his supporters to stand in a day of unity with signs that read "I am Howard Dean's special interest.". One cold February day in rural central PA, there I stood with my printed sign from his website. It was an unexpectedly empowering hour to express my thoughts in solidarity with people all over the country and to feel not alone, but connected to others in action. Without realizing it I was participating in one large performance piece. It is an example where the art is the action, each motivating the other and not existing without it.



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