Art in current times, Optimism vs. Hope

I saw an interesting piece on the PBS website for the show Now. The guest, Anna Deavere Smith was discussing the role of artists in portraying the events of current times. She says,

“I think about an interview I did with Brice Marden, and he says, I was just in Madrid. And I thought— “wow— in Madrid— better go see Guernica.” And he talks about Guernica as this extraordinary painting, as you know, in part about the war in Spain. And— And he says— and he says, “But— but— oh, yeah, you know, we haven’t made our war painting.” How come we haven’t made our war painting? And I love that question.”

So true, where is the Guernica of our times? Is it on the comedic stage? Hardly, since most of that stuff is rather insensitive and desensitized. Who will be the Picasso of these times?
Then she discusses an impression she did of Dr. Cornell West, in which she quotes him as saying:

“I use the language of decline, decay, and despair rather than doom, gloom and no possibility because I think any talk about despair is not where you end but where you start. And then the courage and sacrifice come in. But at the level of hope, not optimism. Optimism and hope are different. Optimism tends to be biased on the notion that there is enough evidence out there that allow us to think that things are going to be better. Much more rational, deeply secular. Whereas hope looks at the evidence and says ‘it doesn’t look good at all.’ Says ‘it doesn’t look good at all.’ Says ‘we going to make a leap of faith, we going beyond the evidence that kept to create new possibilities based on visions that become contagious to allow us to engage in heroic actions always against the odds, no guarantees whatsoever.’ That’s hope. That’s hope.”

So true. It doesn’t look good at all: the wars, the insignificant ceasefires that promise to be a breeding-time for more war, the destruction of flesh and blood, the ruins of modern times unbelievably flashed before our very eyes. We are living in an age where nobody can say “we didn’t know! If we had known, we would have done something!” Everybody knows. Some are revelling in it. Others are praying, or speaking out, and some are taking horrendous actions against it. But, still, in the face of all that, we hope! For the best. For normalcy to return (presuming we ever really had normalcy). For the world to finally see every nation as human. For a human being without is defeated.


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