Please, don’t let this feeling end. It’s everything I am. Everything I want to be. Anyone recognize those song lyrics? If so, you’re as old as I am. But when your art is flowing and you are in the zone and all is right with the world, this is often how it feels. That’s not to say it isn’t hard, but the challenge is somehow invigorating.
Recently, though, several of my artist friends have told me some of the luster has gone off their work. “How can I focus on my trivial dabblings when the world is falling apart?” they ask. “Isn’t it selfish or naïve to think my art really matters when so many people are suffering?”
I feel that way too sometimes. But no matter how bad things have gotten in our world, most of the people we know are still showing up for their jobs every day. Doctors and teachers and journalists aren’t asking whether their work is important, even in times of trouble. They know it is. But so do mail carriers, and garbage collectors, and restaurant workers. We are all needed, even when times get tough, and that goes for artists too.
Can you imagine if every artist dropped their “trivial” work to become full-time activists for the causes in which they believe? There would be no new songs or movies or plays or books to inspire and awaken us. And there would be no hope.
There’s nothing trivial about what we do. For the past 25 years, my entire body of work has centered on preserving history so we learn from it, honoring those who have been marginalized, speaking to the injustice of prejudice and the pain of bullying. My books have explored the themes of loyalty to country, the righteousness of war, the aftermath of suffering.
And they have celebrated the ordinary people working to make their nation and world better in whatever ways they can. My books are “just” fictional stories, and more than half of them are “merely” children’s books, but their messages are as relevant today as they were in the 1940s, when my books are set. And they will be relevant 75 years from now too. What has your art been telling us? What do you hope it will say moving forward?
Now is not the time to set aside our art, now is the time to recommit. I’m not at all saying artists, myself included, shouldn’t advocate for the causes they believe in and use their talents and voices to further those efforts. Those actions matter! I’m just saying, don’t minimize the importance of your art at the same time.