Most everything--including making art--has seemed inconsequential to me following the most recent massacre. My mind, along with that of most people, has been filled with sorrow for the dead and the survivors, and despair for this country. Is there any point to sitting in my studio, making an artwork?
I want a solution and an end to the sickness, but I realize that what I desire most is the end of evil in this country, in this world. That is not going to happen.
How then, to live day-to-day; to exist with inevitable brutality in the world which we've made, while working toward solutions that may not solve the problem of evil, but will maybe lessen its power?
Study after Reni's Massacre of the Innocents, by Stefano Mulinari
As I've attempted to absorb this latest eruption of malevolence, I am ashamed to say that my mind has kept wandering--wishing for a time untouched by abomination; when people, especially children, were not murdered:
The 1950s or 1960s? Um...that supposed golden time; some say the pinnacle of goodness in the United States? Oft-secret lynchings, the practice of earlier decades, continued the murders during the "Happy Days". Include Richard Speck, the Manson crew, and the perpetrators of the My Lai massacre with those times.
The 1940s? Who would long for the time period of the Holocaust?
The 1920s then? To me it seems a time of great music and liveliness and fun. But the worst school massacre in the history of the United States occurred in 1927, in Michigan. A single perpetrator, 38 fatalities, mostly school children.
Was there ever a time-period free from this sort of evil? My uneducated guess: No. Does this make me feel better about living in this time? No to that, too.
But we can and must continue to strive for more peace, greater justice, and an easement of violence. We look for ways to change the world, and care as best we can, for all people--especially those most helpless and innocent.
I'm not smart enough to know what a society can do to mitigate atrocities, but I need some way to continue to feel hope and joy, and to be productive in the world of which I am a part. I don't have a viable choice--despair or checking out is self-indulgence.
I am intelligent enough to know that I have this choice: Not to succumb to fear.
I reject the seductive, self-destructive urge to watch the "news" 24/7 and will not allow that commercial, greed-driven machine to dissect the details (none of my business anyway) for me and purposefully raise my anxiety further as it explains how much more awful, scary, and treacherous life is now.
I reject the brain-stem desire to obtain "safety"--the biggest mythological Pile of Crap that Madison Avenue and politicians have laid on our culture--by purchasing an arsenal, or putting bars on my windows, or seeking gates and fences or a solitary hundred-acres in avoidance of other people.
I reject the urge to muffle my normal fear or other emotion with a drug, or a drink, or by buying some bauble, or house, or car I don't need.
So I turn again to art. Irrelevant? Inconsequential? I'm not thinking so. Literature, paintings, theater, music, cooking--these are mainly acts by man for creation, not destruction. They heal, they teach, and best of all; they remind us of our similarities.
And it is life-giving to initiate the best thing one's hands can make. It is life-affirming to seek joy--or catharsis--in a creation by another human being. What I produce may not be on the scale of an author like Taylor Caldwell, a composer like Scott Joplin, or a painter with the vision of Van Gogh, but I will strive to create; since I want from others the peace, humanity, and enlightenment of their minds and works.
And when even all that is not enough, there are the words of Diodorus (through the pen of a great artist), which have comforted me since first reading them:
"I can do what I can do, live by the values and the truths I have been taught, by the virtues and the justice I know, and surely He will remember me though all the world goes mad."
- Taylor Caldwell, Dear and Glorious Physician
Mary and the Boy Jesus. Oil on board. Private collection.