When art flourishes

For both sides of the recent election, I think the question being asked was: “What this country really needs is a guy with a big baseball bat, who is willing to use it to smash heads like watermelons, if that’s what it takes.”

To the majority of voters who voted against our new President, that didn’t seem like a particularly good idea. But for the minority who voted for him, it seemed to feel like a kind of Occam’s razor.

The general concept, I think, was something like this: Tony Soprano might not be your favorite person, but you can be pretty sure nobody is going to get in his way.

Which leads me to the question of art. In the 1990s I knew a number of people from the former Soviet Union who told me that one casualty of the fall of the Berlin Wall was a decrease in the production of great art.

It seems that brutish governments that employ bullying tactics against their own people are good for artistic expression. And as my colleague Luke DuBois said to me right after the recent election, “This is going to be very good for art.”

I think he was right. My need to add beauty to the world, to create things that bring people together, that promote an awareness of the sheer wonder of each other, has greatly increased since the election.

Sure, our very own real life Tony Soprano might be stomping around Washington floating a fantasy tale of millions of illegal immigrant voters, referring to our free press as “Nazis”, claiming to hallucinate a vast imaginary crowd at his inauguration, threatening to make decent health care an entitlement for the privileged rather than a basic right of every citizen. That baseball bat seems to be getting a very good workout.

But I also think the sheer brutal nastiness of it all is causing many people to move in the opposite direction. They are realizing that art matters. Music matters. Celebrating the beauty within our souls, caring for each other, retaining the ability to see the humanity in one another, all of these things matter.

But only if we step up, if we remember that sometimes we need to turn our eyes away from the guy with the baseball bat. Alas, I fear that the next few years are going to be a very good time for art.

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