Tribe House Blog

Can an artist with an agenda still be authentic?

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Posted : March 13th, 2012 by

Last night at the Katalyst artist gathering, Zachari Smith shared some thoughts and songs on the topic of activism. Some of his songs, in fact, are so offensive that people have walked out in the middle of shows. One of his tunes, Storehouses, pokes at Mitsubishi where he asks “…is there anybody here that can make those f***ers pay…” for the injustice they are carrying out with illegal bluefin tuna fishing. Another takes a stab at the oil industry but he claims “I wrote this song to make people uncomfortable”.

In the midst of this conversation, the question came up: “Is it wrong for artists to have an agenda where the art (whether it be music, a painting, dance etc.) is the tool to communicate their argument?”

To this, our friend Jane Eamon had some thoughts which she posted on her blog but has allowed us to copy/paste it in here. Thanks to Zachari for inspiring this discussion… what are your thoughts on this?

Zachari Smith at Katalyst
I looked up the definition of activist this morning. It is a person who advocates a doctrine of direct action against some form of injustice. So what does that mean? Taking pen in hand and writing about things that need changing? Painting something that makes people uncomfortable? Trying to convince the general public with your art that there are things that are just wrong?

There are lots of reasons why we create art. Art has a visceral place in human experience connecting us to our emotional and spiritual selves to better understand what it means to be human. But art also can serve as a wake-up call to injustice in the world. It can call attention to things that are important in the lexicon of human existence.

We don’t have to have an agenda. In fact, an artist with an agenda is not authentic and that translates pretty quickly through the art. But my fear is the cause de jour….the thing that everyone is talking about that becomes top of mind. How do we address things that are hidden? Find the cause that resonates within the artist and do something about it.

There’s a great line that says “with too much to do, don’t do nothing at all.” Perhaps that’s the problem. In our media driven world we cocoon ourselves against the world’s ills hoping they will go away. They don’t affect us directly so why should we care? That is common and also a travesty. We have the power to change things. We can start one person at a time.

If you write or paint or sing or just talk, you can make a difference. Your art is your ability to communicate. Do it well. Be aware and start small. It will have an impact. Truth always does.

Read more from Jane Eamon:


5 Responses to Can an artist with an agenda still be authentic?

  1. Arno Jordan

    To me an artist is authentic if he is able to talk to my heart, if he can express things out of his heart instead of out of his brain. To me art is true heart language. So if injustice or the pain and misery of other people touches your heart and you express your anger and awkwardness through your art to me that can be pretty authentic.

    If He joins with art, the result becomes Heart 😉

  2. jane eamon

    Arno, that’s a great comment. My fear is that we become so unaware of the language our heart speaks that we sometimes think our head speak is truth. An interesting thought.

  3. Wendy McAlpine

    I feel like I am reading two conflicting messages. One is ,”an artist with an agenda is not authentic” and the other is that artists need to use our communication power to change injustices. What is the definition of agenda? Why are we sure that is is a bad word? For me, a lot of the muddiness would clear with a workable definition of the word because when I use it (“agenda”) I am thinking of mission, passion, purpose… would we say that an artist with a passion is not authentic?

  4. jane eamon

    Wendy, you’re right. Agenda has several meanings depending on the context. In this case, I used it to mean a pre-plan if you will. Something that is based in ego drive and not really a true reflection of the soul. Does that make sense?

    Passion is definitley a motivating factor and quite often to be praised, but without that element, art CAN become a flat endeavour. It becomes something driven by the head not the heart.

    Good comment.

  5. jane eamon

    I looked up the definition of agenda and ONE of the meanings is ulterior motive or secret intention.

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