As a writer I join the thousands of voices responding to the horrors in France yesterday. I should be better at putting into words the anger and disgust I feel at the massacre of Parisian cartoonists and the two policemen who were gunned down with them at Charlie Hebdo. While the civilized world expresses its shock we marvel at the power of the cartoon to incite this unpardonable violence.
Once again we are reminded, art matters. Words matter, songs matter, pictures and theater and dance matter. We express the orthodox and the outrageous, the pedestrian and the political. When art challenges or offends it fulfills one of its missions. When art delights, soothes or comforts, when it enlightens or surprises, then too it fulfills its mission. And when human beings lose their lives for the right to create this art, art matters.
My son, an actor, has said he wants to create theater that matters. While he would love to make a living wage, his goal is to create, through performance, selection, production or education, art that changes the world. Maybe the world of one audience member, or maybe a nation, but ultimately a theater of change. To him, art has always mattered.
Cartoonist Stephan Pastis posted today, “If a little cartoon can threaten your belief system, get a new belief system.” Brilliant though he his, I must disagree in part with him. A cartoon should threaten your belief system, make you think and worry, infuriate you or challenge you. That’s its mission. Your belief system, if it’s any good, should be able to respond to the challenge, and you should be able to analyze, accept or reject the purported insight of the cartoon. But where we agree is that the cartoon matters.
To the cartoonists at Charlie Hebdo, art mattered. To the policeman responding to the gunshots, who too gave his life, service to his city and its citizens mattered. To Salmon Rushdie, to the Scandinavian cartoonists, to film-makers in the McCarthy era, to all of us as writers and artists, actors and policemen, lawyers and teachers, art is the change we want to see in the world. An MFA can be more powerful than an MBA. It’s all in how you use the weapon, isn’t it?