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  • Writer's pictureRichard Mailman

Try That in A Big City….

Art and The Responsibility of Creating It.

Throughout history, there have always been works of art, that for one reason or another have sparked controversy and raised eyebrows. Some people would argue in support of the idea that creating controversy is the whole reason for making art in the first place. Some subscribe to the theory that really great art should hold a deeper meaning, and others only see it as a form of entertainment or distraction with no need to be challenged by it all. No matter how you view it, there’s no denying that art, by its sheer existence, moves us all in one way or another.

Art that’s considered controversial tends to fall into one of several different categories. It can challenge viewers' expectations and view of the world; it might be something that some people don’t think has any artistic merit at all; or my particular favorite, art that angers and or offends people. Nowhere does that resonate more than in our current “woke” world around art and popular culture. Oh, how I long for the days when it was just Madonna that was pissing people off. One of the things I loved about her was watching as she twisted herself into a pretzel trying to explain the deeper meaning in some of her more controversial work when many times it really was just about pissing people off. This is clearly the intention of Jason Alden and his song “Try That in A Small Town”. Unfortunately, this little ditty goes way beyond just wanting to ruffle the feathers of his political adversaries. While the song praises and extols the virtues of small-town values, it belittles and dismisses the experience of urban life. The song creates a sense of animosity between individuals from different backgrounds and walks of life, fostering an "us vs. them" mentality. At its worst, the song holds a deeper, more problematic narrative that advocates violence, stereotypes, and complete intolerance for diversity. It actually does small towns more harm than good by promoting the idea that they in fact represent and hold these values, when that isn’t necessarily true. In reality, both big cities and rural settings have their unique challenges and virtues, and celebrating one at the expense of the other isn’t productive or beneficial to society in any way.

Because art has the power to inspire, entertain, and provoke, the question then becomes, what responsibility, if any, does the artist have to their audience? The reason I find art that angers and offends people so fascinating, isn’t so much because of the work itself, but the reasoning around the outrage. Whether it’s political, religious, or cultural differences that spark the reaction, the power and impact of injecting humanity, compassion, and empathy into art, should never be underestimated. Art reflects what it means to be human. It mirrors the complicated aspects of the human experience. It serves as a powerful tool for storytelling, helping us to understand and connect with the diverse experiences of other people. By infusing art with humanity, an artist can create authentic, relatable narratives that not only resonate with the audience but that enrichs their own life.

Artists who inject empathy into their work invite their audience to step into the shoes of their subject and gain a new perspective and understanding of people different from themselves. By doing that, they transcend their own limitations and gain a profound understanding of the shared humanity that actually unites us, not divides us. Art, at its core, is a profound expression of the human experience. It’s capable of transcending barriers, opening hearts and minds, and educating us by introducing ideas we may have never considered before. Beyond aesthetics, art has the power to connect on a deeply human level, sparking introspection and fostering empathy for others.

My fascination with New York, Los Angeles, and other big cities around the world started as a kid by watching movies, tv shows, and listening to music. I was excited by the idea of living in a place that was populated by people with cultural backgrounds different from my own. I wanted access to theater, music, and film, and to not be limited by having to adhere to any one type of lifestyle. The most enticing thing about living in a big city like New York or Los Angeles was being in a place where I would be celebrated for my differences, accepted for who I was and to be able to express myself freely by creating art that spoke to everyone. My suggestion to anyone, from anywhere, is to come and try that in a big city. And trust me, you’ll be welcomed with open arms.

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