“An artist’s duty is to reflect the times”? Or is it?

“An artist’s duty is to reflect the times”? Or is it?


 Photo of Nina Simone. Photo credit -COURTESY OF PHOTOFEST, NETFLIX


The incomparable Nina Simone succinctly and passionately stated that “an artist’s duty is to reflect the times.” Video linked here.  That one, simple, yet poignant declaration has stuck with me since hearing it years ago.  Today, I finally decided to “put pen to paper” to analyze, document, and share why those few words are so impactful, dare I say gut wrenching and challenging of my core beliefs. As I explore my mission as an artist and my personal beliefs in this life, I just  cannot shake her words.  That feeling of being shook and changed reminds me of another Nina quote, she said “I’ve always thought that I was shaking people up, but now I want to go at it more. And I want to go at it more deliberately, and I want to go at it coldly. I want…I want to shake people up so bad, that when they leave a nightclub where I’ve performed, I…I just want them to be to pieces!”  And she is certainly successful at this. 
Sometimes my mind replays the quote as I am working on pieces that fail at reflecting the times. Through this analysis, I seek to fully understand and explain why the comment doesn’t sit with me as an artist.  
I think this saying is accurate for the time in which it was coined, a time when communicating to THE PEOPLE and about THE CAUSE was more challenging.  Important news, community organizing, and other potentially life altering information was slower to reach the masses than they are in today's digital age.  Artists, particularly those in the speaking genres, singers, public speakers, even clergy, literally had access to the ears of the people and could “broadcast” important messages via their artistry.  I  think it’s important to note that Nina Simone also said, “it’s the artist’s choice” but she chooses to reflect the times. And one can argue that choice is very important to autonomy and feeling human. Right?  


What do I believe? What is MY choice as an artist…a human. Is it my responsibility to reflect the times in my work?

After much thought and based on recent experience where I was again told to reflect the times.  I can undoubtedly declare that MY choice, my mission, my responsibility as an artist and as an adult is first, to define these things for myself. To make my own choices based on my own values,  beliefs, and who I am at my core. It is important to me that my work is reflective of who I am in this journey of life.  This is my autobiography!  As Nina’s body of work is also a window into who she is, her experiences, and her mission.  MY CHOICE as an artist is to provide an escape from challenges of our daily realities, be it only momentarily or for any amount of time a person can remain captive by the beauty. Through my creative works of signature wearable art, creative interior art, and in my personal conversations, I endeavor to provide a place of solace to appreciate and remember there’s still good in this world. There’s still so much LIFE to be lived, loved, and appreciated.  My mission is to help my collectors celebrate and value themselves.   My revolutionary act is not to reflect the times, as it is almost unavoidable to turn a blind eye, even for a healing moment, to the trials and tribulations of this world.  Choosing not to reflect the challenges of our present realities is my service to my collectors, my gift to myself, and my legacy in this world.

 And while I am here, I thought it would be helpful to outline a few ways in which artists can serve others and themselves by choosing to reflect something other than the challenges of this world.


Be deliberate about your muse:

            The old adage suggests “Garbage in, garbage out”.  What we consume, through any of or senses, will affect how we think, how we reflect the world in our art, and our perception of the world as a whole.   With that said, try to take note of the beautiful stories happening around you in everyday life, be it on social media or in person.  Be deliberate about the places you visit, the events you attend, the conversations you take part in, the music you listen to, just to name a few.  You may add to the list as you need to. But most importantly, let the beauty in life be your true muse.  The wonderful thing about this is, that beauty is truly in the eye of the beholder. 


Be specific about when you create and what mood you are in.

I’m not sure this needs elaborating but I will, just in case.  Artists typically tend to feel and connect deeply. Therefore, how you feel is often reflected in what you produce be it directly or in the energy the piece carries.  Take stock of yourself prior to creating. Pay attention to your thoughts, your body, your environment, your workspace before you create and continue to check in as you are creating.


Be authentic & what feels good to your soul.

You don’t have to be a champion of anything, you don’t have to follow any artistic rules, you do not have to speak to and for the people, sometimes, you may need to just create to speak to and for yourself, to and for inner child, to your future self, or to no one at all. You can simply create just to create. As Nina also said, it’s the artist’s choice.” You choose your mission, your message, and your duty. Define it for yourself. After all, your art, while it is a gift and a service to others, is also a part of your core being and you must be true to you, first and foremost.



You can “wake up choose violence” or you can just be. 

If you are on the internet at all, you’ve seen this saying about choosing violence. It basically expresses how a person has chosen to cause a disturbance, shake people at their core, cause people to talk, to disturb others in some way.  As an artist, you CAN choose violence or you can choose peace. It’s your voice, canvas, paper to form into art.


That is all...no "in conclusion"... :)



I welcome you to share your thoughts below.  What side of the coin do you stand on?  What is an artist’s duty in the modern age?  Has technology changed the duty?  Is it selfish to serve oneself and the people at the same time?  Isn’t serving the people, innately self-serving?

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