Last night we sat through (well, agonized through) a rented version of The Baader Meinhof Complex--the story of Germany's Red Army Faction of the 1960s-1970s. The surprise was not simply the violence and delusion of this murderous group of young terrorists, responding to what they saw as the perversities of the capitalist world, but the depth of support they enjoyed among other young people at the time. The terrorist option, as we know to our cost, has been still more widely embraced throughout the world since then, and the values and methods of extremists are perceived as acceptable and necessary to vast numbers of the dispossessed. Even here, in America, the anger roils, barely below the surface any more. There is anger on the left as well as anger on the right. It arises out of real frustration and suffering, and a recognition that the economic and political system we have historically embraced no longer serves a vast number of the people it was supposed to benefit.
Still, a revolution--whether from left or right--does not seem imminent. Sheep-like, we accept the inaction of our representatives with a good deal of grumbling and whining, but little in the way of action. Perhaps this is because we have been brought to the realization that action, this far along the line, accomplishes nothing. We dutifully write our letters, make our telephone calls to Senators and Congressional representatives, and send in our donations--only to be checkmated by a Joe Lieberman or his Republican act-alikes. Having just last year elected a President who we hoped might make a difference, we watch him rapidly ensnared, as we are, in a system designed to disempower and mired in inertia. The futility of it all is numbing to mind and spirit.
My book, I realize as I write these words, is in part about this same paralysis as it manifests in the cultural arena. It's about the creative person's struggle for survival--"persistence"--in a cultural environment dominated by powerful corporate profit-making imperatives. In this predicament, the artist has all too often come to feel powerless, unrepresented, voiceless. To whine and grumble about this situation, though, is to become its victim, and we artists need to be made of sterner stuff. We are blessed with creative, imaginative minds--minds we can put to use to create strategies that allow us to persist.
Which brings me back to my lifeboats. Lifeboats, as I understand it, are small, manageable, mutually supportive communities of like-minded people, tough-minded in their commitment to values other than those that have brought us to this pitch. They can be the source not only of personal and emotional support, but also of practical, systemic social and economic support. If I write about them today, and in this broader context, it's because I have been coming to the understanding that such lifeboats can become the context for the "success" of my book--and I think of success in part as selling copies, yes, the financial part; but also, and more importantly for me, of sharing its ideas, these ideas about which I'm writing at this very moment, and bringing them into the forum of discussion. What strategies do we need to develop, as artists, to survive?
Community is an important component in the overall survival strategy, and "Persist" is finding a gratifying response in small communities of artists, communal knots or nodes, particularly at first in my own neighborhoods in Los Angeles. Across the 5 Freeway in Atwater, for example, artists Ed and Vivian Flynn have invited me to lead a discussion and sign books at their space in the Atwater Village Art Center, where they teach classes and plan exhibitions and community events. The vibrant community of Atwater has attracted artists as a less-expensive area to live and work for a good number of years, and Ed and Vivian have created a fine working space for their lifeboat operation in a new complex that includes studios and a small theater.
Similarly, a few miles to the east in the Highland Park/Mount Washington area, another thriving community of artists is gathered around an impressive nexus of galleries and exhibition spaces. Here my friend Stuart Rapeport has suggested a session either at Future Studio, the gallery that represents him, or perhaps at the local Highland Park Ebell Auditorium. Further to the west, I'll be doing a talk and leading a discussion before (I hope) signing a few books at the Los Angeles Art Association--an artists' collaborative that sponsors exhibitions and art-related events of all kinds.
So I'm looking for lifeboats. In this world which has become so impossibly large that its problems are unmanageable, they seem to me to offer hope for the future, a new way of co-existing and managing our lives that relies more on mutual love, respect and support than on systems that have proven, are proving inappropriate for an overpopulated, overcompetititve world. If you happen to know of any, please let me know!