Do Artists have a Responsibility to Society?

view from my balcony

Inspiring view from my balcony, Lake Arenal, Costa Rica.

It is my opinion, as an artist, that we do not have a responsibility to society. We are not answerable to anyone other than ourselves.

As artists our struggle is to be true to our own voices, not some else’s. An artist shouldn’t feel a burden or obligation to set an example for the entire world. They shouldn’t feel that they have to reflect the beliefs or opinions of a certain segment of society. Pressure should not be put on an artist to “set a good example.” Or to change people’s political or moral views.

The first books I created were beautiful and sweet children’s books. The Rumpoles & The Barleys series, which I wrote and illustrated, will always be favorites of mine. I am blessed to know they have been a positive force in the lives of children around the world. On the other hand, I always knew I had so much more to say and I fought for years to be able to say it. With my creative nonfiction works and the publication of the NIGHT ANGELS CHRONCILES, I feel I am finally an artist who is true to myself.

Artists create from a deep place inside. It takes courage to go to that place and to let it out. Sometimes this can be horrifying. Sometimes it can be beautiful. Sometimes it can be painful. Sometimes it can be sweet and innocent. Playful. Brutal. Violent. X-rated.

My art (and I mean my paintings and drawings and writing) is mostly fantastical worlds of escape. This is because I find the real world to be horrifying on so many levels. I don’t have answers to the world’s problems. Well, actually, the world doesn’t need answers, it is humanity that needs a makeover. I don’t think we have even come close to figuring out those answers. Or perhaps we are afraid of them…or…I just don’t know. Due to my personality, my life experiences, my spirit, I am compelled to create art that uplifts and brings a ray of light to the darkness. That said, my art can be quite dark in its reflection of my own experiences and the suffering that I see around me.

As a woman artist, once I was married and had children, I was told over and over in many different ways, all of them painful, that I should put aside my compulsion to create, for the sake of my family. That my art should no longer be important. I had a husband and children now. They should be my focus. Of course, they were my focus. But I did not understand why being a good wife and mother and being an artist wasn’t possible. I couldn’t give up creating on paper. I couldn’t give up my imagination or the stories inside of me. Not any more than I could give up breathing. This was a difficult time for me as an artist and as a woman. And it went on for many years.

At various times, I have been told by the men in my life, that they needed to guide me. That I wasn’t a real artist, I was just pretending. That I needed to stop because the amount of time I spent doing my art didn’t make sense monetarily. Once, a drawing that I had worked on at night when my family slept, was thrown in the fire the next morning because it was “worthless.” My nose was broken as a punishment when I painted a picture that did not measure up to my husband’s standard. My writing was ridiculous and why would anyone ever want to read it? I should give up. I was a bad wife and mother because my focus wasn’t completely on them. Anyway, I was far too shy and I had no ability to “sell myself.” On and on. Even when I was finally a free woman and I was seeing someone “in the business,” he told me I should leave it all to him. I didn’t have the experience or the personality to know what was best or how to present anything.

My children are grown now and I am without “entanglements.” I am traveling and writing. I embrace all my life experiences. It comes out in my work. It is coming out right now as I write this! I have remained true to my love of fantasy and now I can indulge it. Fantasy is what got me through the darkness. I love creating that darkness in my writing. And then filtering in those moments of light. I know how it feels. I lived through it. How tragic it would be if I had given up. To think that if I had listened to those voices I would never have written Key of Mystery or Book of Angels, or gone on this NIGHT ANGELS CHRONCILES journey.

We all live through darkness. We are all artists trying to express ourselves. Art is so powerful. It can uplift us. It can spiral us further down. A song or a poem can inspire kindness to a neighbor. Or it can lead to murder and suicide. It can incite riots. It can spark a revolution. It can bring reconciliation. I can’t judge any of that. I don’t understand enough about the forces and motivations behind it all, on a spiritual level.

For so much of my life I was bombarded with angry, resentful voices of society, telling me what I should do with my art. If I had listened to all those voices and let them guide me, I would have lost my balance and fallen too far into the darkness. With my spirit, with the way I see the world, how would I have faced each day?

How can I breathe if I can’t tell a story?

 

 

6 thoughts on “Do Artists have a Responsibility to Society?

  1. Pingback: Do Artists have a Responsibility to Society? – NIGHT ANGELS CHRONICLES by KH Mezek

  2. mplanglinais

    I still struggle with feeling guilty about wanting–needing–to go into my office and create. I feel the burden of “neglecting” my family. But they’ve also learned I’m happier and better to be with when I have time to write (and paint or do a puzzle when the words won’t come). This is part of me and how I function. My obligation to my family includes an obligation to myself.

    Like

    1. Karen Alaine Hunt

      It’s great that you have a supportive family. I think this is something most women struggle with, artists or otherwise, balancing family and our own needs. You said it well: our obligation to our families also includes an obligation to ourselves. Thanks, Amanda!

      Like

  3. Karen… I found your blog because I have been asked to be a part of an exhibit featuring art that is focused on exactly what the title of this post is… Does An Artist Have A Responsibility To Society. I’m anxious to be a part of the exhibition, but have to say that it’s a question that I am struggling with the ability to know my own answer to it. However, the very first sentence in your post rang such a loud bell (“It is my opinion, as an artist, that we do not have a responsibility to society. We are not answerable to anyone other than ourselves.”), that as I continue to think and investigate the topic, it is going to have a huge influence on what I come up with visually.

    I agree with your statement, with some of my own personal conflict about it in reserve. Sometimes I wonder if my own visual art can’t do more in society than it does, but then why should it? That’s sort of what you seem to also be saying. I agree with you that if WE, the creative people on the planet, spend as much of our time as possible being introspective, digging deeply as you say, into our creative centers, allowing who we are to show in our work, instead of forcing some other idea out of it, then those who see it will be affected by who WE are, no matter what that affect is, for better or worse. That seems like a much more organic, natural flow to our responsibility as artists.

    Reading your post has done a lot for my view about this topic, thank you! It’s also wonderful to read that you found out what is important to you to be creative. All I can say about that is that you have met men who were insecure, but pretty par for the course, as they go. As a male artist, I’ve been in the reverse situation in a marriage that didn’t make it for many of those reasons. The inability to understand or respect anyone who HAS TO be able to celebrate that creative spirit to feel alive, isn’t gender specific, believe me. Since the end of my own marriage, I have made it a point to get to know women who are also living the creative life. It’s been glorious to have friends and partners in the business who all understand what “we” are like, and how deeply we feel, live and love being what we are. Congratulations to you for finding out where you belong, and what you don’t need.

    Cheers… Marc

    Like

  4. marchansonart

    Karen… I found your blog because I have been asked to be a part of an exhibit featuring art that is focused on exactly what the title of this post is… Does An Artist Have A Responsibility To Society. I did a Google search on the topic and this came up. I’m anxious to be a part of the exhibition, but have to say that it’s a question that I am struggling with the ability to know my own answer to it. However, the very first sentence in your post rang such a loud bell (“It is my opinion, as an artist, that we do not have a responsibility to society. We are not answerable to anyone other than ourselves.”), that as I continue to think and investigate the topic, it is going to have a huge influence on what I come up with visually.

    I agree with your statement, with some of my own personal conflict about it in reserve. Sometimes I wonder if my own visual art can’t do more in society than it does, but then why should it? That’s sort of what you seem to also be saying. I agree with you that if WE, the creative people on the planet, spend as much of our time as possible being introspective, digging deeply as you say, into our creative centers, allowing who we are to show in our work, instead of forcing some other idea out of it, then those who see it will be affected by who WE are, no matter what that affect is, for better or worse. That seems like a much more organic, natural flow to our responsibility as artists.

    Reading your post has done a lot for my view about this topic, thank you! It’s also wonderful to read that you found out what is important to you to be creative. All I can say about that is that you have met men who were insecure, but pretty par for the course, as they go. As a male artist, I’ve been in the reverse situation in a marriage that didn’t make it for many of those reasons. The inability to understand or respect anyone who HAS TO be able to celebrate that creative spirit to feel alive, isn’t gender specific, believe me. Since the end of my own marriage, I have made it a point to get to know women who are also living the creative life. It’s been glorious to have friends and partners in the business who all understand what “we” are like, and how deeply we feel, live and love being what we are. Congratulations to you for finding out where you belong, and what you don’t need.

    Cheers… Marc

    Like

    1. Karen Alaine Hunt

      I apologize that I didn’t see this comment sooner. I don’t know what happened, except that I have been traveling and it somehow slipped away from me. I would love to know what happened with the exhibit, Marc. And thank you for your thoughtful comment.

      Like

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