Making Art During a Political Hellscape

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If you are struggling to make art, you are not alone. You are not imagining the world seems to be on fire, either, and if you need confirmation of that I suggest you start by reading The Weekly List. Changes are sweeping through at a frightening pace, and just this past weekend thousands marched in Poland to the tune of nationalism and deadly rhetoric. Hate, even pedophilia, is presented as “acceptable” by some for political reasons so their “side” wins. A “side”, as if being a decent human being was important regardless of which “side” you’re on.

This is not politics as usual. I’m guessing deep down you know that, and not just because the communities you frequent have changed. Engagement is all over the map; some people are glued to the news, wondering when the next disaster will strike. Others are abandoning networks in favor of local communities. If you know what’s happening, it’s because you understand the consequences of those blaring headlines. Good people are getting hurt right now. Maybe someone you love. Maybe even yourself. And it hurts. It makes you angry, sad, concerned. Wondering what you can do; wondering if what you are able to do will be enough. Wondering if you’ll be next.

Political hellscapes are something a lot of artists struggle with, and this year is no exception. Toxic stereotypes are still (incredibly) entrenched in our social zeitgeist that affect artists. It’s the idea that we (e.g. artists) don’t matter, because our work is a luxury item rather than a necessity. Worse: we must suffer in order to make good art, and if we’re not starving we haven’t paid our dues. Never mind the fact that the billion-dollar entertainment industry is comprised of publishers, game manufacturers, studios, etc. Never mind that there’s no “one” path for artists to follow. Some are hobbyists and never intend to sell. Others are professional artists whose livelihood is dependent upon what they produce and sell. And, of course, the hundreds of artists who fall in somewhere in between.

Being an artist can also be a big part of your identity. The word “artist” evokes a stereotype which is further refined by the type of art you make. Writer. Sculptor. Painter. Musician. Yes, there are many artists who can and have mastered different disciplines, but that is not how we are judged. Art, after all, is something you do for fun. It’s not a real job. It’s not as important as putting out fires or saving lives or governing. Often, artists feel powerless in a sea of hate-filled rhetoric and change, because we often passively influence change as opposed to actively. Suddenly, everything we do is deemed “political” whether it is or not, and we’re not sure if writing heroes who fight monsters is as important as dealing with the real ones.

Art will always be political, because art is made by human beings, and human beings are always political. Art has the power to influence, convince, dissuade, etc. because it is often designed to evoke a specific emotion for a reason. As time passes, we may not feel the same impact of a piece’s original or subliminal intent. Hell, we may not recognize or even notice the originating political influences on older books, movies, games, etc. but they are there, whether they be intentionally inserted or not(1). The stronger the rhetoric, the stronger its effects will have on us and our art, because we cannot ignore what’s happening all around us. And, if we ignore politics, that is often an intentional choice–one that not everyone has the luxury of making.

What we feel and what we think are crucial to making art, because our mental health and emotional well-being matters(2). We are not robots. Artists are human beings who tap into the deep reserve of who we are to facilitate laughter, tears, terror, rage, etc. We might tell ourselves that we are entertainers (certainly I have done that myself as a coping mechanism on occasion), but at the end of the day we utilize different tools to relay an aspect (e.g. truth we know) of the human experience through various mediums. And, when we suffer, our art can also suffer–but not always. Sometimes, we establish coping mechanisms to ensure we keep making art, or reasons why we can’t afford (financially, emotionally, etc.) to stop or slow our production. Other times, the art we make is our coping mechanisms, our means of escaping all the shit that’s around us, to depict a beautiful, even hopeful, future.

I don’t have a magic wand that I can wave and resolve those deep, messy feelings you’re experiencing right now. To keep making art, however, means that you have to do what you did in the past. To be an artist, means you have to find the time to make art. To do that, you have to put yourself first, and that can be a very complex and often painful thing to do. It feels selfish, right? Only, if you want to donate your time/money to make a difference, it’s harder to do that when you’re not doing well. So, the best way to help other people is to ensure that you’re okay first. Then, when you’re strong enough, then help somebody else. And, if you need help: ask. Otherwise, you’re scattering your resources so broadly that you’ll feel as if you’re not making a difference. I’ve been there myself, and it was a difficult lesson to learn.

Yes, as always, your mileage will vary, and I do feel that you know what’s best for you and your situation. However, the sharpened truth is that you can always find a reason not to make art. Politics is one (or a hundred) reasons, but there are so many more. To find the will to produce, look for the reasons why you want–no need–to make art. Sometimes, that basic motivation can be the lifeline you need to keep at it. Find that and remind yourself why you need to make art and why the world needs your vision. No, I can’t guarantee that your work will be popular or will be wildly successful–no one can. What I can do, however, is tell you that if you call yourself an artist, it’s because that is who you are. And that, dear reader, is reason enough to keep at it. You’re worth it.

(1) The Twilight Zone, The Blob, and The Crucible are all great examples of this.

(2) This was something I realized the hard way this past year. 2017: the year of shitty life lessons.

Mood: Change is in the wind
Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: Vini, vici, espresso.
Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: Some light walking. Trying to kick this cold.
In My Ears: Game of Thrones Season One soundtrack
Game Last Played: Pokémon Go
Book Last Read: Work shit
Movie/TV Show Last Viewed: Lucifer
Latest Artistic Project: Make Art Not War Challenge eBook now available!
Latest Releases: Over the Edge for Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition, Dagger of Spiragos for Scarred Lands.
Current State of Projects: Read my latest project update. New project update coming when I get time.

Monica Valentinelli is a writer, editor, and game developer. Her portfolio includes stories, games, comics, essays, and pop culture books.

In addition to her own worlds, she has worked on a number of different properties including Firefly, Vampire: the Masquerade, Shadowrun, Hunter: the Vigil, Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn, and Robert E. Howard’s Conan.

Looking for Monica’s books and games that are still in print? Visit Monica Valentinelli on Amazon’s Author Central or a bookstore and game store near you.

Want to Interview or Hire Me? Send Fan Mail?

Would you like to hire me? Because my projects and manuscripts are in flux, I am always open to discussing new opportunities with publishers and studios. As a full-time writer, I spend a portion of my time seeking new gigs–so don’t be afraid to reach out. If you’re interested, please e-mail me via my Contact Page. I typically reply to work-related e-mails within one-to-two business days.

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