art is fierce -- 5/15/20

Today's selection -- from The Source of Self-Regard: Selected Essays, Speeches, and Meditations by Toni Morrison. Toni Morrison explains the value of public art:

"Art and access is a much-written-about, much sermonized-upon subject. Artists and supporters alike see an abyss between elitist and popular understandings of 'high' and 'found' art and try to span or fathom it. The tools for making art matter to ever larger, ever more diverse populations are many: more and more creative uses of funding, free performances, individual grants, and so on. The perception that the chasm remains may be the fruit of an imaginary landscape made real by the restrictions of available resources or by fiat. It is an unconscionable, almost immoral perception.

Antigone in front of the dead Polynices
Antigone and Polynices
, 1865 by Nikiforos Lytras

"I want to describe to you an event a young gifted writer reported:

"During the years of dictatorship in Haiti, the government gangs, known as the Tonton Macoutes, roamed about the island killing dissenters, and ordinary and innocent people, at their leisure. Not content with the slaughter of one person for whatever reason, they instituted an especially cruel follow-through: no one was allowed to retrieve the dead lying in the streets or parks or in doorways. If a brother or parent or child, even a neighbor ventured out to do so, to bury the dead, honor him or her, they were themselves shot and killed. The bodies lay where they fell until a government garbage truck arrived to dispose of the corpses -- emphasizing that relationship between a disposed-of human and trash. You can imagine the horror, the devastation, the trauma this practice had on the citizens. Then, one day, a local teacher gathered some people in a neighborhood to join him in a garage and put on a play. Each night they repeated the same performance. When they were observed by a gang member, the killer only saw some harmless people engaged in some harmless theatrics. But the play they were performing was Antigone, that ancient Greek tragedy about the moral and fatal consequences of dishonoring the unburied dead.

"Make no mistake, this young writer said: art is fierce."



Toni Morrison


The Source of Self-Regard: Selected Essays, Speeches, and Meditations


Alfred A. Knopf


Copyright 2019 by Toni Morrison


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