The Arts and the Blog Challenge Project

A few days the admirable Shaun Duke put out a call on twitter for fellow bloggers to join a kind of writing challenge. He later explained it in more detail in this post on his own blog:

“What is the Blog Challenge Project? In short, the project aims to create a community of bloggers and booktubers who will encourage one another to create content, support one another in their blogging ventures, and provide a giant list of prompts and ideas for posts that folks can complete on their own time or challenge one another to explore. The idea is to provide some positivity and community in a time of immense stress. You can click the link to read the full info page and see our current list of prompts!”

Aside from being a great way to find other interesting posts to read, it looked to me like a good way to create inter-blog conversations. People don’t need to write about things at the same time but having common prompts will help more natural conversations and back-and-forth of ideas happen. I was very happy to join.

But where to start! Well I could just do what I normally do and wait for inspiration to hit me with its four claws, confused expression and unsatisfied hunger for kibble and then, after I’d written whatever post came out of that experience, add the topic I wrote post-hoc to the list. That didn’t feel entirely in the spirit of the thing. So I decide to cheat in the opposite way and pick the first prompt somebody else had already written on! Brilliant, I said to myself, although Timothy was disappointed that I hadn’t done a photo essay comparing shapes of commercial pet-food kibble with famous starships (another time).

Luckily, Shaun Duke had also got the ball rolling with a big picture post entitled The Arts are the Glue that Holds Civilization Together.

“And in doing all of this and seeing all of what is happening around me, I’ve started to answer a crucial question out loud to myself: why do the arts matter yesterday, today, and tomorrow? And I think I’ve got a decent answer to that. I’d argue that the arts are the glue that holds civilization together on both the personal, national, and global scale. It’s the thing that allow us to express ourselves, to find joy and relief, to be human and explore what that even means. The arts are everything.”

Now as people know, in the great sorting hat of the disciplines I was shuffled off into House STEM and I can’t say that the hat got that wrong exactly but I haven’t been particularly faithful to my appointed box either.

Shaun’s thesis that the arts form a kind of social glue strikes me as absolutely right. The dark side of that is the way those who seek to take power away from us do so via propaganda and narratives. That’s not deny that other forms of intellectual disciplines aren’t also used for evil because they are from economics to physics but that the political power, even in a tyranny revolves around persuasion and the subversion of the ‘social glue’ that Shaun describes.

A lot of talk about the value of the arts points towards the virtue of creativity. That’s not wrong but it’s not the aspect I find compelling mainly because I think people miss the extent to which creativity is embedded in every discipline. The difference with the arts is that creativity is more overtly celebrated. Albert Einstein, for example, was manifestly a very creative thinker but it is the correctness of his theories that earns them their praise rather than their novel elegance.

Rather, what I value from the arts in terms of a unique contribution is their capacity to interrogate creativity creatively. The arts in general provide a way of exchanging ideas that provide the ‘social glue’ that Shaun describes but the discipline of the arts gives us tools for us to examine how those ideas operate and mesh together and also how they differ from one another.

Without tools to interrogate the creative, the spiritual and the aesthetic aspects of our culture we lose sight of their power. Losing sight of that power is how we end up with things like Fox News on the one hand or L. Ron Hubbard’s Dianetics on the other. Conversely not understanding how disciplines that our current culture regards as somehow “non-arts” hides from us connections and delights and ways of enjoying the world around us.

I’ve discussed before Japanese Temple Geometry ( a perfect instance of what we’ve stereotyped as unartistic playing that demonstrable social glue (in this case community worship) and engaging with notions of the spiritual and the aesthetic.

Our capacity to interrogate, define and converse about the arts is essential. It is essential for us as an open society in which ideas flow and people can grow.

Now excuse me, I have to draw a theorem.


10 responses to “The Arts and the Blog Challenge Project”

  1. Vaclav Havel’s essay “The Power of the Powerless” argues that art gains power simply by refusing to follow the government line: not necessarily criticizing the government but by the artist saying their own thing, regardless of what the government says is politically correct (this applies to all dissident activity, not just artistic). It’s an interesting essay though I’m not sure it says anything about how to deal with the current crisis.

    Liked by 3 people

      • To be fair though, one generally does need to understand the rules in order to be able to break them. There are plenty of examples of painters e.g. Turner or Picasso, who would likely have been considered great even if they had stayed within the boundaries of ‘current’ models.
        But yeah, if rules become straitjackets because of fear of the new, then that’s when the problems are going to arise.

        Liked by 3 people

      • I’m amazed at how much current writers (and not just the Puppies, though them too) try to follow the rules. A very long time ago, when I first started reading science fiction, the emphasis was on breaking rules, writing something astonishing, beautiful, terrifying, transgressive, something that, as we said in those days, would blow your mind. And so we got Dangerous Visions and the New Wave. Now we have people explaining how to write six e-books a year, where they literally come out and advise new writers to follow genre rules and slap something together, and don’t think about it too much, because if you do that you might add your own insights and give someone a new (implied: unpleasant) experience, and also thinking wastes time you could use to slap together another book. I mean, I understand the position that sf fans just want to be told a story, but these aren’t even stories, they’re, I don’t know, those tasteless rice crackers.

        Liked by 4 people

      • @lampwick: within the last few years we’ve had Ancillary, Broken Earth, Ninefox, Dandelion Dynasty, Three Body, a wealth of Chinese short fiction, the beginnings of Korean short fiction entering the market, twitter microfiction, folks like the Night Vale guys experimenting with audio-storytelling in various ways. I think it’s safe to say that boundaries, expectations and comfort zones are still being pushed.

        Liked by 3 people

  2. Michael Stipe sang a song last night on Colbert* that was basically “this is the best time to do art”. It was quite lovely.

    *And of course I mean he came in via video from his house. He had slight lighting effects, though.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Yes and no. I’m very keen on some sorts of art, but I don’t really understand the view that art is the only really worthwhile thing people do. And I really don’t agree that it’s the glue holding us together. Or, perhaps, that it’s THE glue in a way that nothing else is. People get to know each other and form bonds and share views and values and standards talking about all kinds of things. For a lot of people it’s more often sport than art, and they’re no less part of society than the art-lovers.

    Liked by 1 person

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