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Art is for Everyone

How unchecked privilege locks people out of the creative process

By Chelsea DelaneyPublished 3 years ago 5 min read
Art is for Everyone
Photo by Richard Balog on Unsplash

I still feel frothy about it, quite a few days later.

My online art teacher instructed me to grab an apple and to draw the cross contour lines on it in permanent marker. "Remember, don't eat the fruit after you've done so."

I looked at the two pears left on top of my fridge. I thought about my recent job loss, the fact that my unemployment checks have still not shown up, and I'd been on exactly zero interviews this week. "I can't really afford to be throwing out a piece of fruit now, can I?"

If I felt this way--single, college educated, living in the Silicon Valley (for those of you who don't know where that is, it starts with G and ends with oogle), then imagine how this instruction would've hit someone with kids, or someone who is a gig worker who has been underemployed all year.

I sat with the experience for a few minutes, and I felt a familiar anger rise. I've always hated to see people excluded--at five years old I wagged my finger at my Dad's business partner and told him, "You are not a very nice man!" after he teased me about something. But when people are locked out of creative expression, I feel especially indignant.

It would've been so easy to salvage that moment in his lesson, by saying something like: "And if you don't want to wreck a piece of fruit, or don't have fruit at home, you can carefully cut the lines in, or even find something of a similar shape that you can draw on." But because he--white, middle class man--had fruit at home to spare, he assumed we did too.

This is unexamined, unchecked, socioeconomic privilege. And though it may not have been intentional, that doesn't prevent it from having the same effects as a calculated, malicious use of privilege.

Everyone Means Everyone

When people are dying in the street, losing their voting rights, and being locked out of economic advancement on a grand, insidious scale, talking about art accessibility probably seems a little silly. However, I'd argue that protecting creative expression for all is just as important as fighting for an array of civil rights. Through the arts we come to understand that our story has meaning. This acknowledgement of meaning gives us the courage and stamina to fight for changes in the world.

Art is for everyone. Dance is for everyone. Theater is for everyone. Music is for everyone. Writing is for everyone.

I can hear people arguing with me as I write the statements above. The first group says, "Um, oh-no, not for me. My people are stick figures, I can't find the beat, I'm too shy, I'm banned from singing in the house, and I don't have much to say." I hear you, but let's take any one of those statements and explore what the other half of it might read...

I don't have much to say...that anyone would want to hear.

My people are stick no one would buy my art.

I can't find the people are embarrassed when I dance.

This is one way to approach creative expression--through a consumer lens. "Because someone else would not recognize or appreciate it, I won't/can't/shouldn't do it. But what about your soul? I'm not talking about religious soul, but about the universal human need to move, tell stories, fall in love with color, and mirror the sounds of nature.

That art needs you, that art will save your life, that art should not be closed to anyone because they don't have the right materials, lingo, everyday life, or end goals. When I first started painting years ago it was with zero formal training, butcher paper, and kids tempera--it was pure joy. When I published my first volume of poetry, a friend said to me, "This is the first time I haven't been confused by poetry." This is the kind of arts access that I want to protect fiercely.

And then, in comes the second group of arguers. These folks, I'm a little less patient with. "Well, hold on a second, this is all well and good, but not all art that's created is good art." ACCORDING TO WHOM? Who are these communally agreed upon arbiters that get to make the rules? Invariably, their next point is always to bring up a list of pop music or reality TV shows that 'are lacking substance.' Great, then don't consume those 'subpar' sources for yourself. Nothing about 'greater access for all' forces you to enjoy art you hate, or make art that is not in line with your standards, your calling.

I'd much rather live in a world where people are exercising creative muscles, even if it's just for monetary gain, than in one where we don't try until it's going to meet an arbitrary standard of goodness or substance. There are lots of creative forms and practices that I don't understand or that don't feed my soul.

A newbie to Vocal, I am super distracted by the fact that most Creators here seem to fill their stories with pictures. I think it robs your audience of the space to imagine for themselves. However, I also know that it includes a whole lot of people that grew up on that kind of visual stimulation. It draws them to a place where they can access ideas, conversations, and stories that they might not have in my old lady blocks of straight text. Those Creators will make more money on here than me, but that's okay. All of my art languages, I speak for myself. If someone wants to give me money for them, awesome! If not, I am equally okay with that.

In the end, I guess what I am pleading for is a little bit of cultural humility, especially from those of us that could get away with not giving it. Artists of all stripes should be the ones to invite people in, not lock them out. It's easier to lock people out, but it makes the party a whole lot less fun.


About the Creator

Chelsea Delaney

Life is weird, write about it, paint about it, dance about it, and sing about it too. Use every language in your arsenal to sculpt the world you want to live in. Writer, educator, artist, and creative midwife--this is what I do.

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