I’m not accustomed to giving speeches, but yesterday I collaborated with two colleagues, poet Regie Gibson and visual artist Sirarpi Heghinian Walzer, to present a convocation at Fisher College. We speechified; we performed poetry with piano accompaniment; we displayed visual art on easels and projected large on the stage. Our topic was collaboration, how we’ve collaborated with other artists to create art, what it means to employ artistic thinking, and how artists are involved in social action. Our broader message was that thinking like an artist — questioning, examining, digesting, remaking — was an important tool for everyone and our society needs more of that if we’re going to get out of the binds we’re in. Creative thinking and innovation — we need it all across society. Examining and questioning — how else can we make sense of all the information and pseudo-facts being thrown at us.
I’ve been waiting a long time for our country to take a leadership role in addressing pollution, habitat destruction, loss of biodiversity, and especially — top threat of all — climate change. Those are issues that I find threatening and at times terrifying, canceling feelings of hope. However, I thought hard about one of the questions posed to us: that our presentation showed us as hopeful people, so does hope come first and then we make art, or does making art bolster our sense of hope. I wasn’t sure what to say, because right now, I’m not too hopeful about our prospects for keeping a natural world full of wonder and diversity. So the answer has to be, by creating art, I become more hopeful. I need for my art to be positive. There is no other way. Art for me is a message about a hopeful future, about I future I want to imagine.
Two of the poems we read were adaptations of my choral pieces, Weaving the World and The Future of Life. One contrasts a distant war with a refuge in nature. The other laments the loss of biodiversity, with the potential for making the world a sterile, man-made environment. Both end with hope, that fear of war can be overcome, that nature inspires us to appreciate our world, that people will come to realize that by protecting nature we preserve our own humanity. Creating art does engender hope.