As with much personal essay writing, it’s easy to make grand proclamations—to borrow your phrase. I generally try to write with a degree of measure. But, alas, I frankly never considered people might stumble upon this piece in the first place (given my previous stats).
To be sure, I’ve been writing for two decades—so art clearly means something to me. In that time, I committed a lot of energy, thought, and pain to making conscious and political art. Some was successful. Much was naive. And there were a few outright fiascos. But each effort kept me engaged. Which is to say, it mattered to me—reactionary or not.
You make great points and cite good examples. But I wonder if the operative word that might be missing in that paragraph was “some,” in other words “some reactionary art.” This might add a bit more measure to the sentiment. But then again, that’s not what the punk spirit was about. Fugazi was a lot of things, but I’m not sure nuance figured in.
Creative expression, by its very definition, isn’t always reactionary—precisely because, as you say, artists are human beings. Living itself is a creative act. What starts in our imagination eventually is made manifest in our words, actions, and relationships. Humanity is creativity.
So I’m with you that art is an essential component in positive social change—which, on a basic level, is simply about working to make being a human a bit easier. And slagging that art because it, say, sounds “cheesy” (e.g., Scorpions) 30 years later is as naive an action as the supposed naive reactionary art.
That said, there’s another operative word that’s worth considering with regards to your observations: reactionary. In my mind, the examples you bring up are progressive and proactive. For example, integrating a band is a brave action and statement that could have had a devastating personal impact—but Benny Goodman did it in spite of that.
The best political art (like, say, Picasso’s “Guenica”) can shine a light on the dark truths that might inspire change—whether in the individual, in culture, or in the systems of power. But, as with all change, it is just an element within a greater movement that builds on the passion of organizers, academics, philosophers, activists, and anyone else who thinks there can be a better way to live. And in this current political climate, we can use all the help we can get.
Most importantly, I’m sorry you got the impression that I’m suggesting anyone—artists or otherwise—should ever put down their pens. As a student of psychonalysis, my guiding principal is that personal expression is a medium of social change. That’s why I’m grateful you took up your pen to engage with me.
Which is to say, thank you for reading the piece and sharing your thoughts.