The traditional activist tends to come at you. It is a straightforward charge backed up by righteousness and facts. It is a worthy passionate stance. And it has its limitations.
The artist comes at you sideways. Good art sneaks up on you. You feel it before you think it.
Frederick Douglass made masterful use of photography. A new art and a new technology. David Brooks explains how Douglass used portraits of his dignified self to redraw people’s unconscious mental maps.
He was erasing old associations about blackness and replacing them with new ones... he was taking an institution like slavery, which had seemed to many so inevitable, and leading people to perceive it as arbitrary. He was creating a new ideal of a just society and a fully alive black citizen, and therefore making current reality look different in the light of that ideal.
“Poets, prophets and reformers are all picture makers — and this ability is the secret of their power and of their achievements,” Douglass wrote. This is where artists make their mark, by implanting pictures in the underwater processing that is upstream from conscious cognition.
Walidah Imarisha makes a similar point in her introduction to Octavia’s Brood - “Whenever we envision a world without war, without prisons, without capitalism, we are producing speculative fiction.”
What happens when we start to understand ourselves as artists? How does our posture change? What does our work look like when it seeks to impact culture? How do we claim the role of “cultural creatives”? What practices allow us to become better at the art of making pictures - new pictures, pictures of a more just world, a world that optimizes life at the intersection of love and freedom?