How do you strike a balance between needing to navigate a particular art culture when some of your beliefs/thoughts/ideology run counter-cultural to that world? That is without finding yourself in a position of frustration or feeling a loss of voice because the compromise/balance is too much?
It’s been a minute since I answered an ALAL question because I’ve been MAD busy with YXL (youngxlady.com), but this question just came to my inbox and gave me great pause. Dang, bruh, this is a good question.
I will briefly speak on personal experience just so that those who relate with the above question can know that someone knows what they’re going through.
I am, for lack of a better term, a “born-again Christian.” That means I didn’t grow up in a family that identified as Christian. I came to the conclusion myself at age 17, just a few months before going to art school.
In art school, being a Christian is the LAST thing you’d want to be in order to stay relevant, which is the art school way of saying “cool.” To top it off, all of my art was about Jesus, so I was talking about him constantly around my majority secular-humanist-atheist peers. Through all the hostility (which I never really felt angry about), I learned very well how to engage postmodern minds with thoughtful conversation on faith, spirituality, the sublime, and contemporary art. I also learned how to be alright (and even thrive) in a world where my viewpoints were seen as completely backwards. I even learned how to slowly earn respect from and make genuine friendships with people who to this day, really really hate Christianity. I still love them.
Fast forward to now, I’m focusing on developing the small population of female artists in the Christian Hip Hop scene. I am mostly surrounded by those who share the same faith, but because of hip hop’s long history of erasing the humanity of women and Christianity’s long history of being a little too slow to acknowledge sexism, I find myself once again going against the current. There are moments where I literally want to clock a dude in the face for the smug expression they sport when they tell me that women lack the talent to really make it in hip hop. However, even when I feel unwelcome, I still love them.
So, how do you create in worlds that don’t always welcome you? The answer comes down to love and conviction.
You really, really need to love the scene you are a part of in order to create with in it, especially when your beliefs are fundamentally different. LOVE does not always mean you completely agree with it or even feel loved back. At the heart of love is service. If you want to see a change within your respective creative culture, especially in an area that might be hurting you (like the lack of women in pretty much everything), then your desire to change that aspect has to be rooted in love… love for the art form, love for the audience, love for the artists coming after your head. If your work is rooted in anger/bitterness/envy/self-righteousness, your passion will slowly destroy you and come off as inauthentic. It isn’t good fuel to run on. *Note: anger can be channeled in a positive way. A good litmus test is to sit and assess if you are building towards something. Building is a good thing. Tearing down is good…if it leads to building. I.e. “Lets tear down this other artist because we hate them” = bad. “Let’s tear down the assumption that women are less talented so that we can increase female presence” = good.
Aside from being hurt by the art communities we love, I feel like sometimes we just don’t like an aspect of a world and make changing it to fit our preferences our primary goal. Have you ever been in a relationship where either party wanted very badly to change the other person and it didn’t work out because the other person never felt truly accepted/loved/or wanted? This can be applied to the world you create within when your general disposition is one of distaste. People don’t respond well when they can tell that you don’t like them, and it’s pretty easy to tell. If that’s your deal, then you my friend, are a real douche.
In a better world, there are relationships that are so centered on love and service that both parties are naturally, positively influenced under the safety of kindness and acceptance. The scene was there before you and is full of a long and rich tradition in which things were one way for a very long time, but you see now that those artists never anticipated younger ones with a different outlook. There is a way to lovingly enter a genre/room/NEIGHBORHOOD (hello gentrification) with the intention of expanding it without causing a rift. It’s called, don’t (intentionally and maliciously) start a fight—- just do your thing without waiting for permission, always be polite, take criticism like a champ, and do not EVER compromise on your convictions. Which leads me to…
Bruh, nobody should have the power to give you permission to create your art, and nobody should have so much power over you that they fuel your desire to create. Encouragement is great and many times I benefit from people saying “Hey you’re really good at this keep on doing it.” BUT, this artist’s life is like the army. You really, really need to know why you are there doing what you’re doing. You can’t waver every time someone says “girls don’t belong here” or “Jesus has no place in my gallery.” You can’t run after validation like some lost puppy. Spend some serious time with your convictions, goals, and beliefs. REALLY, REALLY get to know them.Your convictions will always have a place for you. The worlds you try to bring them into won’t always be welcoming. They won’t always be your home. They won’t always like you. It’s not good to rest your head there.
Practically speaking, not compromising on your convictions could look like being prepared to have clear answers to those who question you. Being questioned is not being attacked, and if you can’t explain your art then you can’t stand by it. It could look like NOT watering down your subject matter just because it makes someone “important” uncomfortable.
I will also venture to say that if you aren’t causing at least a little friction with your art, then you’re not doing it right. If everyone around you completely vibes with what you do, you’re probably just surrounded by a bunch of tools. Don’t be that person.
I hope this helps, young lady!!