Resistance: Making Room for Making Art

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Because I’m dutiful and generally complete what I begin, I just finished a collage I started before the election. I’d wanted to weave paper, prints of paintings, and had already cut slits in Paul Klee’s Twittering Machine. Next was to cut strips from Cézanne’s Fruit Bowl, Glass and Apples. The prints came from a stash of fine art books I kept from the many dozens David recently gave away to declutter his studio. The piles now in my study are a rich resource I feel okay about cutting up because making art with art makes sense to me.

But does making art still make sense? Since the election the sliced Twittering Machine and the Cézanne print had sat untouched on my art desk. What difference did it make to a world that suddenly felt so out of tilt to make this collage? What difference does it make to work through another revision of my memoir? Does any writing other than poems and essays and blog posts that push back against the current rise of intolerance and tyranny make sense?

Because a hard wave attempt at tyranny is what’s happening. This isn’t abstract. White men without compassion or empathy for others, white men who believe they should be in charge of everything because that’s the way it’s been for much of human history in the Western world and they like it that way, will soon be leading our government.

Is going on with my life, satisfying my need to create, normalizing what’s happened? There’s a strong push to not normalize this election and I’m totally on board with that. Trump is setting up a government of men (maybe he’ll throw a woman or two in there) who want to take away civil rights, reproductive rights, the separation of church and state, and the right to vote if you’re from a constituency they don’t want to have an equal say in how our country is run. Which is everyone who doesn’t fit in their particular narrow definition of who matters and who gets to have a voice.

So where does creativity for the sake of creativity fit in a stance of firm resistance to demagoguery? Is there room for the beauty of art?

I’m glad I read Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic before the election. Her embrace of creativity and permission to make things just because it makes you happy and makes beauty is a message of hope. If we let go of our impulse to create, whether it’s a collage or a lyrical poem or a loaf of bread or tool bench or a blog post protesting the rise of white supremacy, then the world really does get dark.

We need to make room for creativity and the beauty that brings because that’s part of our voice, and isn’t that what we’re fighting for? For everyone to have a voice, to be able to be who they are in the world as long as they’re not hurting others?

Yes, I know this could be criticized as an highly privileged, elite, coastal, liberal point of view. What about people who work three jobs and have no time to be creative? What about people who have no voice? What about people living in the shadow of a controlling partner who doesn’t give them a single free moment to breathe?

I felt despair as I wove the strips of paper for my collage, but that despair made me really think about all these questions, and recall Gilbert’s book, and remember that even in the midst of the worst times we need to get up in the morning and make breakfast and do the laundry and make pies for Thanksgiving. And make art.

Making art is part of my resistance. Creating is asserting voice. The collage I made isn’t going to do anything to stop the white fuckboys from trying to control our lives.

But it made me happy to make it. They can’t control that.

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About Grace Mattern

Grace Mattern is a poet, writer, mother, grandmother, partner, friend, family member, gardener, triathlete, hiker and for 30 years was the Executive Director of the NH Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence. She resigned her position at the Coalition on June 15, 2011 in order to concentrate on her writing, while continuing to engage in the movement to end violence against women as a consultant and advisor. Her chapbook Fever of Unknown Origin was published in 2001 and her full-length poetry book The Truth About Death was published in 2012.
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5 Responses to Resistance: Making Room for Making Art

  1. Grace – From Brainpickings (weekly newsletter – I can send you the link) Toni Morrison’s eloquent essay on why our art and our voices matter no matter whether it’s a personal poem, collage or broad themed political piece. She comes to the same conclusion as you do just at a different difficult time. It’s part of the fight – nothing really new about it – just our feelings here and now. Creative energy is solution based and healing. I truly believe that in addition to active social work – we need to nurture our own artist selves in order to be effective and to do so without judgement or self-criticism. We need time to fill the well as Julia Cameron brilliantly reminds us.

    No Place for Self-Pity, No Room for Fear: Toni Morrison on the Artist’s Task in Troubled Times
    “Like failure, chaos contains information that can lead to knowledge — even wisdom.”

    • Grace Mattern says:

      Thank you, Andrea. This is just what I need to hear. I’ve been so taken out of myself — anxiety before the election, fear and anger since — that I’ve had trouble getting my feet back under myself. Making that collage was the right thing to do, as much as I thought it was a useless thing to be doing pretty much the entire time I was doing it. So be it. It was a path back to a more centered, creative self. I hope your painting and poetry are bringing joy and light in to your life. The paintings you post on Facebook are stunning. Thanks again.

      • You’re welcome Grace. I shared the post with you on Facebook it has the link to the whole article – check it out. You are a wonderful artist and poet. The world needs to hear your voice and your point of view. Happy Thanksgiving!

  2. rsbense says:

    Thank you for writing this- creating for creating’s sake is getting cut every where we look- not in my house.

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