The Artist’s Responsibility

So if you missed it, the Oscars were this weekend. Music played a big part in this years show and in many ways helped keep what could’ve been a boring night quite eventful. Obviously, many outlets are talking about Lady Gaga’s Sound of Music tribute which was really great, but for me the highlight of the night was Common and John Legend’s performance and win for Best Original Song for ‘Glory’.  It was such a powerful moment that rightfully brought people to tears. It struck a chord with the audience and reminded me of something so important  — the artist’s responsibility.

Art has an ability to connect with people in a very unique way. It can resonate within the heart and soul and connect people together in that same way. To be able to do that effectively in a way that lasts is a very rare gift. Artists have the responsibility to use their gifts to empower, build up and encourage society. We also have the opportunity to use our artistic voices to challenge norms and call for change. That’s what Common and John Legend illustrated so beautifully. They had a responsibility to use their voices for good and they did. They used the opportunity to remind the audience of the struggle and fight of those who spoke out against injustice and inequality. In doing so, they dignified the struggle for those who fought for what was right. They made a historical moment relevant to our present day by reminding us of the importance of continuing to press on through the struggle for equality. They took the opportunity to raise their voices to call attention to the injustices that are rampant in our present day culture and society; but they did so with dignity and grace.

But it wasn’t just about race. Yes, racial tension in the United States was the catalyst for this creation but the reason the song is so powerful is because it resonates within a human desire for belonging and equality. Yes, the piece spoke specifically within the context of Dr. Martin Luther King’s leadership of the Civil Rights Movement but it moved beyond that. They were calling for all people to stand for equality for all mankind. Everyone wants to feel as though they belong and we all have within us an innate desire to feel as though we are being treated well. This is why their statement is so powerful. This is why the Civil Rights Movement was so powerful. It started with race but it didn’t end there. It ends at the whole of mankind.

I close with a quote from Harry Belafonte’s acceptance speech of the 2015 Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award. He is a man who was sold millions of records, starred in wonderful films, and marched with and supported Dr. Martin Luther King and others in the fight for racial equality. He so beautifully reminded us of the Artist’s Responsibility.

After all, Paul Robeson said, ‘Artists are the radical voice of civilization.’ Each and every one of you in this room, with your gifts and your power and your skills, could perhaps change the way in which our global humanity mistrusts itself. Perhaps we as artists and as visionaries, for what’s better in the human heart and the human soul, could influence citizens everywhere in the world to see the better side of who and what we are as a species.

Peace & Harmonies


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