Adrienne Rich, a widely respected writer and feminist, died a few weeks ago at the age of 82. As we consider the question of the “purpose” of art, these comments of Rich’s might inspire you:
“[Art] means nothing if it simply decorates the dinner table of the power which holds it hostage.”
Rich said this when she declined to accept a National Medal for the Arts in 1997. She did so as a protest against Congress’s vote to end the National Endowment for the Arts, which has funded and encouraged art and literature in the United States since the 1960s. (Ultimately, Newt Gingrich, Speaker of the House of Representatives at the time, failed to in his attempts to eliminate NEA funding in 1997.)
EDIT: Another example to stimulate discussion about the relationship between art and power
In 2009, Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami was awarded the prestigious Jerusalem Prize. Many pressured Murakami to decline to accept the award in response to Israel’s bombing of Gaza at the time. He chose to accept the prize, but used his acceptance speech to call attention to the issue and criticize Israeli policy. He stated:
“Between a high, solid wall and an egg that breaks against it, I will always stand on the side of the egg.”
Yes, no matter how right the wall may be and how wrong the egg, I will stand with the egg. Someone else will have to decide what is right and what is wrong; perhaps time or history will decide. If there were a novelist who, for whatever reason, wrote works standing with the wall, of what value would such works be?
What is the meaning of this metaphor? In some cases, it is all too simple and clear. Bombers and tanks and rockets and white phosphorus shells are that high, solid wall. The eggs are the unarmed civilians who are crushed and burned and shot by them. This is one meaning of the metaphor.
This is not all, though. It carries a deeper meaning. Think of it this way. Each of us is, more or less, an egg. Each of us is a unique, irreplaceable soul enclosed in a fragile shell. This is true of me, and it is true of each of you. And each of us, to a greater or lesser degree, is confronting a high, solid wall. The wall has a name: It is The System. The System is supposed to protect us, but sometimes it takes on a life of its own, and then it begins to kill us and cause us to kill others – coldly, efficiently, systematically.
Full text of his speech is available here :http://www.haaretz.com/culture/arts-leisure/always-on-the-side-of-the-egg-1.270371