"I really enjoyed your article last week, but you might have to think about replacing the name 'Happy Friday'."
My friend verbalized what I've been thinking over the past few months: why doesn't my art reflect the positivity it's meant to produce?
She thanked me for my most recent article- calling it thought provoking and a conversation starter. That was my intention, yet her words illuminated a question that I've grappled with as Happy Friday transformed from a Soulpancake-esque site, pushing positivity into my classroom and inboxes, and changed into a "Hey, I think we need to talk about what's going on around us, both in our local counties, and in our country, and see what we can do to make a difference" type of writing.
So as the purpose of Happy Friday began to transform, I struggled with this major (and age old) question: how do you produce positive art in the wake of national turmoil?
To start, I needed to look through my personal art, which consists mainly of poems and short stories. I quickly realized that both styles pulse with positivity- with hints of social justice- but mainly reflect the realness I encounter. However, it's the social commentary pieces that I produce for Happy Friday, in which I typically try to connect the current pulse of the nation to the words on my page, that stray away from the positive, and reside more so in the reality of everyday life.
As I continuously contemplated the question about producing positive art, I took it a step further and began to evaluate other forms of art I've consumed this past year. When I dug a little deeper, I discovered an intriguing trend.
A lot of the current art we consume does not necessarily reflect a positive outlook; rather it reflects historical accuracy, but most importantly, it reflects how the artists feel. This notion was reinforced in a compelling read by the Los Angeles Times titled, " How an Angry National Mood is Reflected in Popular Culture.” It states:
Ta-Nehisi Coates’ “Between the World and Me,” a bestselling meditation book on being a black man in America, is, along with Kendrick Lamar’s Grammy- winning “The Blacker the Berry,” among the most profound expressions on anger and disillusionment around race. Two of last year’s most heralded films reflected fury that, while set in the recent past, connects with the current political turmoil: “The Big Short” was an examination of the greed and hubris that led to the 2008 financial collapse, calling out a Wall Street culture that has become a target of populist politics, while “Straight Outta Compton” reminded audiences of the LAPD’s brutal history with minority communities as new police shootings of African Americans set off disturbances across the nation.
I've consumed every word that came out of those four different pieces of art, and each one expressed emotion that is raw and reflective of either how the artist felt, or how a moment in history is revealed through a certain medium of creativity (movies, television episodes, plays). All of the art listed in the quote above leans more towards "conversation starters" or could be considered "thought provoking."
I believe this is the art we need. In a time where people are scared, anxious, and angry, we need those conversation starters, those pieces of art where we stop and reevaluate what is going on within us, while also being conscious of what is going on around us.
However, as with most things in life, balance is essential- and the art scene is no different.
That's where current street artist and former Pittsburgh Steeler's running back Baron Batch comes into play. Batch's story centers around an artist trying to find every outlet to publicly share his work. The problem is that he is trying this in the notoriously football-conscious town of Pittsburgh. As a street artist, whose goal is to typically fly under the radar and stay out of sight, his job is harder because of his popularity as a former player. Yet Batch wanted to change how Pittsburgh views public art, so he decided to stick around the steel city and display his talents.
Over time, he began producing positive pieces for everyone to see. And indeed people saw, including the police:
Batch shed light on how he views art (and subsequently how the police view his artistic expression): “It was so funny,” Batch said when discussing the detectives’ arrival. “They were showing me photos of tags that said, ‘Love more,’ and, ‘You were made to bloom,’ and these inspirational things are supposed to be seen as incriminating photos."
Batch paid the fines for tagging public property, but he hasn’t stopped his quest to produce art that is meaningful and positive- even if the police don't care for it.
"Does that make me a bad person?” [for tagging public property] he asked. “I don’t give a shit what anyone thinks. I’m pursuing what I want to pursue. The people that followed me understand I’m doing it for a good reason. As the world sits today I can’t think of a more important time for people to put positive things out in the world and it would be hard to find someone who disagrees with that who isn’t a piece of shit.”
Batch’s words are strong and opinionated, but they reflect the emotional state of a nation that is currently anxious, angry, and in need of some positivity mixed with reflection.
Art provides an outlet for not only creative expression, but most importantly, it raises our collective consciousness towards social issues that must be discussed. Art helps us make sense of what is happening around us.
For those reasons, I’m sticking with the name Happy Friday. It may not always be positive, but by sharing ideas about current social issues, I think we all grow. And it's there, in that growth stage, where we have the ability to make the world a more conscious and compassionate place for everyone.