When I was in Africa a few years back I saw a billboard that reminded me why I need to carry my camera with me more often. It looked like your everyday Sprite advertisement--green bottle, slogan, all larger than life--but, underneath the green bottle wasn't a picture of Kobe Bryant, or Lebron James, just these words:
"Want to succeed in life? Drink Sprite."
I didn't know if I should laugh or borrow an axe and chop it to pieces. I didn't do either, in fact, I didn't do anything. Really, what can you do when marketing hijacks art?
"But a picture of a Sprite bottle is hardly art," I can hear you say to me. And you'd be right. It's not art. "Then why bring it up?" I hear you ask. I bring it up because revealed in that billboard is the essence of marketing. We have learned to have so much fun with marketing--as many of us watch the superbowl for commercials as to see the game--we forget that its essence is deceit. The slogan on the billboard had nothing to do with the product being sold. It was meant to take advantage of the anxiety we feel. Don't get me wrong. It's not a bad thing to obey your thirst, it will often lead you to meaning. But even when we buy their product, even if we drink it, we find it doesn't really satisfy. Not the way we wish it would.
So, what do we do with that anxiety? If we can't buy our way out of it, how do we exchange it for meaning? For starters, you can put down your remote, stop channel surfing and pick up your paintbrush, or camera, or microphone. Art has the power to save us from that anxiety, marketing only has the power to make us spend.
"You really think art has power?" I hear you ask. Well, art is a bottomless well, always has been. It has been there in every generation, in every period of history to help bring us back from the brink, to quench the deepest thirst. When we create, we reveal a divine playfulness that draws us toward something more deeply human. That is the power of art. It re-humanizes us, it reawakens meaning in our lives. And the beauty of art is that there is even more re-humanizing power when we share it.
Often when we think of art, it's as a painting or a poem, but art is so much more than just works of art. It's a way of life, a way of living. When we reawaken the parts of us that play and create, not only do we produce works of art, but our everyday, mundane existence becomes art--we become living works of art. Art has this power because the essence of art is the revealing of truth, and it is that revealing that gives art the power to save.
So, back to the earlier questions. What can we do when art is hijacked? And what do we do with the anxiety we feel? Same answer to both questions. Ultimately, I'm glad I didn't chop down that billboard. Since then I've learned that creating is a more powerful form of change than destroying. But, on to the answer. I've got just two words for you. Create. Share.
There's power in art, there's even more when we share it.
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/4259