Toni Morrison reflects on the role of art in hard times

Some years ago, during a time of crisis, Toni Morrison confided to a friend her discouragement and inability to write. The friend had this to say about hard times:

This is precisely the time when artists go to work—not when everything is fine, but in times of dread. That’s our job!

Toni Morrison, who won the Nobel Prize in 1993, and wrote such memorable novels as Beloved and The Bluest Eye, echoes this advice when she says about “times of dread”:

There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilizations heal.

I know the world is bruised and bleeding, and though it is important not to ignore its pain, it is also critical to refuse to succumb to its malevolence. Like failure, chaos contains information that can lead to knowledge—even wisdom. Like art.

She was speaking in another time in our history, at another critical point, but the message resonates today.

In this time of global crisis, I believe we should pay attention to Toni Morrison’s advice — take up the art form, the creative activity, that makes us happy, that gives us comfort, and for which we have a passionate commitment. For me, it’s writing, but for you it might be visual arts, film or photography, dancing, singing, playing an instrument, cooking or baking, gardening, sewing, crafts, volunteering, teaching, scholarship, a business or scientific venture.

Whatever it is, if it’s creative and is infused with your energy, your individual stamp, it will help center you in a time of chaos and confusion.

Let me be clear. I look on this global crisis as impacting our lives for the foreseeable future. If the 1918-1920 pandemic is any indication, we are looking at a two-year disruption of whatever normality we had before the beginning of this year.

With patience and perseverance, the support of family and friends, and a daily infusion of creative activities, we’ll get through the difficult months ahead.

2 thoughts on “Toni Morrison reflects on the role of art in hard times

  1. Those are some great quotes. I also find I always feel a bit better after I have written something. So in addition to times of crisis being exactly the time that art is most needed, it also acts as a sort of self-therapy. Without the expense or the awkwardness of Zoom. #winwin

    Like

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