by Colleen Hughes, Program Associate at Fractured Atlas
After November 8, 2016, there were a lot of feelings circulating through the American arts sector: fear, confusion, anger, disappointment, sadness, lostness. Many people, myself included, were asking, “Where does my art and my identity as an artist fit into a USA run by our 45th president?” Well, luckily, Beth Pickens’s newest book, Your Art Will Save Your Life, is here to answer that question. I first discovered Pickens when I heard about her FREE Making Art During Fascism pamphlet, and once I learned of her book, I knew it would be an impactful one. Pickens is part counselor, part consultant for artists in Los Angeles. She began working on Your Art Will Save Your Life after November 8, 2016, as a way to support and encourage artists to keep doing what we do best: make art!
The book begins by addressing the necessity of artists continuing to make art, not just for ourselves, but for society at large, and then digs into “Election Aftermath.” This chapter begins with the the liberating realization that “Trump isn’t your asshole stepdad,” and ends with a section titled “You still need joy.” Addressing head-on the anxieties, doubts, and fears that many artists felt after the 2016 elections, Pickens provides the reader with some concrete realities about making art and being an activist, such as,
Part of accepting what I cannot change is acceptance of the actions I have access to. I want giant, powerful, Trump-stopping actions! The reality is my actions will mirror those of tens of millions of other Americans: phone calls, protests, community conversations and coalition building, fundraising, and encouraging these same actions in my friends. My power lies in adding my one part to the whole.
Next, Pickens has created a Self Inventory, featuring a series of questions about your personal history and family, so that the reader can “excavate [their] own personal and familial histories through the lens of work, education, money, and art.” I found this to be the most valuable section of the book, as it clearly and concisely presented those scary questions that I far too often avoid, ignore, or deny, but which I know forms the core of who I am and the art that I create:
what you learned growing up about the world of work — what it’s like to manage money, whether being an artist is a financially viable career, and so on — forms the core of your choices, whether consciously or unconsciously.
This section has the potential to be a very large homework assignment, so Pickens advises that you take your time and record this inventory, and then take it easy afterwards.
Pickens then moves on to discuss the
three things that must be balanced in your practice: an ongoing art practice, a community of working artists, and lots of varied art consumption.
While discussing the consumption of art, she digs deep into some of artists’ biggest foes, aka an unkind interior voice, a need for perfection, constant comparison to other artists, and fear of failure. She then offers constructive and actionable advice on how to conquer these foes (hint: it involves limiting your social media use).
Finally, the book concludes with more advice in regards to making art during oppressive political climates, including practical and useful tips on how to continue to resist without losing your mind. It reiterates that as an artist, you must keep making art — no matter what!
Artists have to make art because it’s how they process being alive…When thinking about making art and all other possibilities, eliminate the word instead.
The political and social climate will forever fluctuate, but the need for art will never go away, and Your Art Will Save Your Life will help you avoid whiplash while making art in these ever-changing times. So, do yourself a favor and go find a copy of Pickens’s book.