Thoughts on Art & Anger

“What is the way to use anger to fuel something other than hurt, to direct it away from hatred, vengefulness, self-righteousness, and make it serve creation and compassion?”

— Ursule Le Guin


Wandering through the Women House exhibit in Paris, I was thinking about the struggle to find creative expression when anger is the driving force. Anger is such a satisfying emotion—with all its heat and fury, the sense of being wronged…but the danger of this emotional fire is how it blinds. Once you hold a sense of victimhood, it is powerful to turn the hurt on to others—particular or groups, this rage is so easily targeted. Without reflection, anger can build itself a bastion of self-righteousness—and it is hard to accept the perspective or experience of others that may crumble that fortress.  The exhibit in Paris considered how domestic space has been a prison—or shelter—for women historically. What I saw in the artists responding to the notions of space and gender across the 20th & 21st ct was certainly anger—but also an attempt to re-work equations of power and enclosure. The creations that used humour and play remained effective and thought-provoking—those that held anger as the primary expression gave me a glimpse of the history of the feminist struggle—but did not hold as thoughtful works after their time of creation.

Right now is a time of anger: as governments appear to be acting in bad faith, as leaders show their zeal for power and wealth over human progress and the needs of struggling populations.  I can hold my anger closely and feel empowered—but it short-circuits. When I am connecting with others—when instead of anger, shared work and understanding is encouraged, this is where true change may happen. Anger can provide the energy of a jolt towards action; but for real change, we need to harness that anger towards an energy that creates. Art does all this: inspires reflection, voices anger, makes me unpack my understanding of myself in the world, my (often unbalanced) understanding of others.

James Baldwin once said, ‘The role of the artist is exactly the same as the role of the lover. If I love you, I have to make you conscious of the things you don’t see.’

In this time of darkness, I celebrate the light that art brings to us.