The Artist as Outsider
Astonished by Injustice and Here to Get Our Hopes Up
In appreciation of Arlene Goldbard and Henri Toulouse-Lautrec
About Arlene Goldbard
"Arlene Goldbard is a writer, speaker, social activist, and consultant who works for justice, compassion and honor in every sphere, from the interpersonal to the transnational. She is known for her provocative, independent voice and her ability to inspire and activate.
Arlene’s essays have appeared in such journals as Art in America, The Independent,Theatre, High Performance and Tikkun. Her books include Crossroads: Reflections on the Politics of Culture; New Creative Community: The Art of Cultural Development; Community, Culture and Globalization; The Culture of Possibility: Art, Artists & The Future; and her novels, Clarity and The Wave.
Arlene has helped dozens of organizations to make plans and solve problems. They include nonprofits such as the Independent Television Service, the National Campaign for Freedom of Expression, and the New Museum of Contemporary Art; foundations such as the Rockefeller Foundation and the Paul Robeson Fund for Independent Media; a score of state arts agencies; and many others.
She serves as Chief Policy Wonk of the U.S. Department of Arts and Culture and President of the Board of Directors of The Shalom Center. She has served as Vice Chair of the Board of ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal, and Tsofah/President of Congregation Eitz Or in Seattle. She co-founded such activist groups as the San Francisco Artworkers’ Coalition, the California Visual Artists Alliance, Bay Area Lawyers for the Arts and Draft Help."
-- from Arlene Goldbard: Here to Get Your Hopes Up
The Artist as Outsider
Astonished by Injustice and
Here to Get Our Hopes Up
I borrow the phrase "here to get your hopes up" from Arlene Goldbard, whose digital story you'll find above. The phrase is the tagline for her website: Arlene Goldbard: Here to Get Your Hopes Up. Her phrase could also serve as the tagline for those of us who frequent the Fat Soul Cafe; we're here to get your hopes up too. And ours as well. We believe that there is a spirit of healing and whole-making at work in the world, in whose heart we participate when we work for peace, justice, sustainability, and merrymaking. Our Fat Soul Manifesto begins like this:
In a world filled with rigidity in the forms of religious fundamentalism, racism, injustice, planetary destruction, xenophobia, and panphobia—yes, the Fear of Everything—there is an alternative: the way of FAT SOUL. We believe that instead of shrinking back in despair or approaching the world with raised hackles, we need to widen out in love, compassion, inclusivity, and full-bodied joy. This unseemly business of widening out when everyone else is shrinking back may seem wildly counter-cultural, but it just might relieve some of the angst of these troubled times. And it could even—yes, if we get fat enough—change the world.
What is a Fat Soul? Just what it sounds like. Fat Souls are wide souls, expansive souls—souls too big to fit into the slim-cut “Us” and “Them” categories. Fat Soul is a philosophy of life, a kind of wide-angle lens through which to see life, community, and the Big Wide World...more
What is clear to Arlene Goldbard and clear to us in the Fat Soul community is that this widening of the soul requires a certain kind of conversion to wideness which is, in its own way, spiritual. Of course, in the house of spirituality there are many, many rooms: the prophetic imagination, mindfulness in the present moment, a sense of connectedness, true grit, pure energy, playfulness, intimacy, and a sense of being embraced by the Great Compassion. How many rooms are there? In the Whiteheadian Wheel of Life we identify eighteen.
Nevertheless, one of the most important in our time and in any time is the prophetic imagination. Someone who dwells in this room lives with a contrast between:
1. The world as it is, with its beauty but also its injustices, hatreds, and humanly-inflicted tragedies.
2. The world as it can be and ought to be, as revealed in the culture of compassionate possibility.
Aware of this difference, the prophetic imagineer finds herself astonished by injustice, not accepting of it, seeking to turn pain into beauty. The contrast both empowers and haunts her, such that, when others can anesthetize themselves against the pains of the world, she stays up at night, dreaming and painting and hoping. The next morning she rolls her sleeves up and tries to make a constructive difference in the world. This kind of outsider is indeed alienated from a culture of self-protective irony and cynicism. Whereas others fall into the safety of pretending nothing can be done to help heal the world, she's here to awaken us to the culture of possibility and "get our hopes up."
There's something of the shaman, the voyager, in this mode of spirituality, because when we participate in it we are transported back and forth between the culture of actuality and the culture of possibility. Fortunately, with help from art, the shamanism is contagious. With help from art we, too, can learn to be resident aliens, seeing the world with an outsider's eye, and loving it ever more deeply, not only as it is but as it can be. From the perspective of Fat Soul philosophy, this love is the beginning of wisdom. It helps us grow beyond the shriveled soul to the widened heart, where "us" versus "them" turns into a hope, a dream, that we can live together with each other, lovingly, and with the rest of creation, too. To the degree that this dream is approximated in daily life, aliens become residents and swords become poems, with no voice left behind. Martin Luther King, Jr. called it beloved community. He believed that there is a great compassion at the heart of the universe which finds its way into our hearts as we dream this dream. He spoke of this great compassion as God. Other names will suffice as well: Truth, Peace, Hope, Justice, Love, Beauty. The artist as outsider brings us to the beckoning of this dream and, by shock and beauty, helps us step into it.
-- Jay McDaniel