I recently helped to organize a day-long reading of the complete Mueller Report at the Washington Center for the Performing Arts. A number of local theatrical artists and local elected public officials participated in the event, and it was a great success.
A publication I founded, OLY ARTS, was also instrumental in sponsoring this event. Some people in my reading community and my artistic community have asked why arts people are involved in “politics.”
I’m not by nature a particularly political or partisan person. I only recently really started participating in questions related to national politics, and the reason I did so is that truth itself seems to be under attack recently, and the nature of truth is under attack. As an artist and a writer, I think it’s important for us to participate in upholding some common values. The truth may be hard to hear, it may even be painful, but we must start with the truth in order to grow and to create art and meaning. Here’s a longer explanation of our purpose in putting on this event, and the rationale for artists to be at the ramparts, defending truth.
| “No legacy is so rich as honesty.” — William Shakespeare, All’s Well That Ends Well |
OLY ARTS was established as a vehicle for professional, reliable journalism about cultural events that make our community rich in artistic experiences. Like many, we have been saddened by recent diminutions of fact-based journalism. Such journalistic organizations as the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post and even OLY ARTS have been attacked for reporting the facts. OLY ARTS was led to this moment by the fact that it appears that in recent days truth itself — the nature of truth — seems under attack.
One of the key hallmarks of journalism is a value for truth itself. Without a truthful understanding, we cannot create a shared cultural fabric and our common civic life decays. Therefore, when a basic, factual document, created by a nonpartisan group of apolitical officials, is attacked for its very existence, the journalistic community has a responsibility to stand up and state the truth without fear or favor.
Our team at OLY ARTS bears an even greater responsibility to do so as communicators of matters of artistic import to the broader culture. In this environment, it’s incumbent on citizens of all persuasions to support basic truth-telling, but doubly so for any organization that promotes the arts. If artists won’t tell the truth, they can’t claim to create (or support) art that is worthy.
Art suffers when truth isn’t received or valued. Communities die when it isn’t told or understood. The truth may be hard to hear, even painful, but it’s where we start in order to grow, create art and find meaning. Because the truth is hard to hear, the arts community is often the first victim when truth itself is discarded.
Art, at its core, tells the truth. Artistic performances across our country, on every stage, communicate deep emotional and artistic truths that are difficult to articulate in any other medium. To cite two modern examples, Toni Morrison‘s acclaimed novel Beloved opened literary eyes to the realities of American slavery and opened the floodgates for a new portrayal of that reality across our political landscape. Picasso’s painting Guernica similarly opened eyes to the destruction happening in the Spanish Civil War. Artists are the heralds of the truth, and what that truth means. As Aristotle tells us, “The aim of art is to represent not (merely) the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance.”
As we take up the banner of truth, it may be painful, and it may be difficult to hear, but we are proud to be part of a long tradition of similarly minded artists and thinkers. Alexander Solzenhitzyn communicated so ardently the value of truth in our time — the truth, he said, as expressed by an artist, can defeat any lie. “One word of truth outweighs the whole world,” said Solzenhitzyn. It is worth noting that the Nobel Prize winner gave this speech from a distance, as he was not allowed to leave the Soviet Union to accept his prize. The country at that time was afraid of his artistic truth.
— Ned Hayes, OLY ARTS Founder