It was October 2013, just months before the revolution in Ukraine in February 2014. I was speaking at a university, addressing a classroom filled with artists about marketing. The director of the art school was among the audience, attentively listening.
We had just gone out for coffee and he was sharing how much the students had transformed since I started coming to speak. I taught for a week every year since my first visit in 2010. The director said I was a refreshing wind, brimming with inspiration that swept through the school.
During my talk, I told the students that they had a voice and the world needed to hear their voices. I encouraged them to build their art businesses and sell to audiences in other countries through online platforms and social media. My speech was interrupted when a tall man appeared at the door. With a stern and intense demeanor, he motioned for the director to step outside.
Minutes later, the director returned alone, robotically instructing me to gather my coat and belongings and leave. He stood there staring blankly at the wall with his hand stretched out towards the door.
I was utterly dumbfounded by the abrupt turn of events. I awkwardly unplugged my computer from the projector, grabbed my coat and bag, and walked towards the door, leaving the disappointed students with my translator. There was a taxi waiting for us outside.
As I got inside, the director placed a regretful hand on my shoulder and apologized. I turned to the translator and said, “I am sorry if I said something that offended them, I don't know what happened.” She rolled her eyes and said, “It was not you, that was the police, they did not like what you were telling the artists.”
Artists Are Culture Warriors and Leaders
That trip changed me forever. As I watched crowds of Ukrainians flooding the streets of Kiev amid gunfire and burning buildings, I realized the power of art. I could see what weapon it is against tyranny and oppression. I understood how art guarantees our liberty and wherever artists are thriving so are the freedoms of that land.
The world is in desperate need of revolutionists, those brave souls who challenge the status quo, tear down what is broken, and rebuild the ruins and desolate places within culture.
As artists, we are called to be leaders, visionaries, and culture warriors, bridging the gap between the distant and the near, and stand in the future with the Muse, calling culture to it.
Activism vs. Art in Shifting Culture
Activism is driven by a desire to be right or righteous, to react and become a follower of a particular movement. It is charged by leading proponents like a religious or political spirit. It's about reacting and becoming a follower of some movement. Artists can follow and join movements where their heart aligns, but it isn't shifting culture.
Kandinsky said artists stand atop the pinnacle of culture like the tip of a pyramid, casting new visions and hope. We prophesy what is to come. We pull the intangible into the tangible. Activists are a few rungs down after a manifesto is written and the new thought is much more concrete. Movements follow the prophetic leadings of the artist.
Artists as Catalysts for Change
Our responsibility as artists is incredible, but we must dive headlong into the spirit of creation and tether ourselves to the Muse—the source of inspiration, the divine place that holds the keys to the future. The world needs us to be revolutionists, to bring about change, and do so with the power of our art.
In the end, it is not the activists who change the world, but the artists who inspire them.