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I Pledge Allegiance to Art

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Women's March Against Trump. | Photo: Bernard Menigault/Getty Images
Women's March Against Trump. | Photo: Bernard Menigault/Getty Images

The following commentary is one in a series from KCET and Link TV writers and contributors reflecting on how the incoming president will shape, change, and redefine the future of California.

Last week marked the official transition to an administration which, in symbol and in action, brings with it a spirit of greed, selfishness, racism, misogyny, violence, anti-intellectualism, anti-environmentalism, and authoritarianism, among other reptilian qualities. This occasion demands of all of us to consider very solemnly and seriously who and what we pledge our allegiances to. 

I pledge allegiance to art that helps us grapple with this terrifying new reality not to anesthetize it but to aestheticize it into a form of expression. For when the lost part of our souls can find its voice in a communal setting, inspired by the cooperative work of a large and diverse group of individuals, then perhaps we can find the strength as individuals and as a community to rise to the challenges that now face us. For when everything that made up our identity seems under attack, art can remind us what it is we are called to fight for namely our humanity.

I pledge allegiance to a vision of art that is inclusive and awakens the aspirational glimmer in each of us. To a vision of art that is about expanding our limited horizons, realizing that our individual perspective is pathetically narrow, and art, like science, offers us the possibility to see the world as if with new eyes and ears. I pledge allegiance to the art that celebrates doubt and destabilization, the critical faculties that help us understand the world and crush their opposing values of deluded certainty and normalization.  

I pledge allegiance to an art that inspires hope not the cheap wishful thinking hope of Little Orphan Annie but the hope that emerges from an encounter with whatever is not yet known, not yet conscious. For in the audacity of an artwork that attempts something that appears impossible; and in the bravery of the artists who dedicate themselves to something that seems so transitory and potentially meaningless; an imagined deed is made visible, the unarticulated finds its voice, and the future finds a home in our present.  

I pledge allegiance to a vision of art as a communal activity because this too has its utopian function. The collaborative work of artists who meet in a spirit of cooperation, interdependence and humility offers a vision for society that is the opposite of the fearful violence of clan mentality. This is why I pledge allegiance to the art form of opera not because of what it was but because of what it can be: the promise of its platform as an unpredictable dialogue of many voices. Opera rejects the clan-like pairing of like with like but seeks to harmonize a wide range of Others. 

I hope that among the tools I can offer the resistance will not only be the art that I create but my leadership of artists in this community towards this vision of art; art that is not peripheral but central to our society and critical to our civic identity. And while I believe that art alone cannot change the world, it will create the catalyst for change to occur. I pledge my allegiance to all this, and may whatever talents and abilities I have from this day forward be directed only towards fulfilling that promise.

"Invisible Cities" by The Industry. | Photo: Courtesy of The Industry
"Invisible Cities" by The Industry. | Photo: Courtesy of The Industry

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