AMY GOODMAN: [What is] the role you see of the artist in a time of war?I wholeheartedly agree. During the discussions following my solo concert in The Hague in November and the duo concert with Rafal Mazur in Kraków in April the question was repeatedly raised. The emphasis would vary...
ARUNDHATI ROY: Well, I think the problem is that artists are not a homogenous lot of people, and some of them are as rightwing and establishment as they can get, so the role of the artist is not different from the role of any human being. You pick your side, and then you fight. But in a country like India, I'm not seeing that many radical positions taken by writers or poets or artists. It's all the seduction of the market that has shut them up like a good medieval beheading never could.
AMY GOODMAN: And what do you think artists should do?
ARUNDHATI ROY: Exactly what anyone else should do, which is to pick your side, take your position, and then go for it.
What should artists do? What should artists do? What should artists do?
...but the problem questioners had was the same. There is this bad idea--most certainly fostered and encouraged by the State, by educational methods, and by the entertainment industry--that artists should just "do their thing". The Dixie Chicks should just play country music. George Clooney should just act. I should just make music (it has been suggested once or twice).
Yes. And politicians should just lie, and corporations should just pollute, and military personnel should just follow orders. Hey, what's an F-16 for, but to use it!
No one is exempt from taking sides in crises such as the ones that have engulfed the entire planet now. By "taking sides" I don't mean--and I don't think Arundhati Roy means--embracing an ideology or maintaining somebody else's position. I mean taking the side of people and the planet. But beware: if you take the side of people, of living things, you will almost always be setting yourself up in opposition to large corporations and the governments that cover for them.
I can already hear some people saying: but there have always been these crises and there always will be. Fair enough. Then: no one was ever exempt from taking sides, and no one ever will be. Perhaps there will always be affronts to social justice, to peace, and to environmental sustainability. But can anyone honestly believe that as a consequence people should ignore such affrontery?
"Exempt" implies rules, or authority, and is therefore an unfortunate word choice on my part. Everyone is "exempt"; there is no single moral code, and I (like you perhaps) simply do not trust the makers and executors of laws, disembodied, corrupt, and unable to reference in their work what it feels like to be human. And yet: failure to take sides is a taking of sides. How can an artist (or an accountant, or an architect, or an advertiser...) not take a position when confronted with the dangers and injustices of the world? How can that position not manifest itself in an individual's work?
Let me correct myself: not the dangers and injustices of the world, but those of one's own culture, and so, to some extent, one's own making.
It seems to me that the person who asks "but what can I do?" has yet to realize the need for something to be done.