Friday, January 20, 2017


The 2016 U.S. presidential election sank to new lows, creating a difficult and exhausting time which didn’t get easier afterward. I realized just how bad it was when I fell asleep during dental work. My dentist drilled, wrenched at, and cut away a stubborn crown that needed replacing and even though he started working on it before the nerves were completely numb—it was still a welcomed break from watching fear and hatred trample values I cherished. The election left me impatient with people, wanting to be alone and feeling like I would never tell another story again.

Kristen Schwartz - Forest of Dreams

People acted as if the election was a prize they could win for themselves by hurling personal insults and ill will at the expense of the other side. It was brutal and I felt like an ineffectual citizen in a country I didn’t know. In normal elections we debated ideas and issues, voted, won or lost, and continued on afterward—just as we had before the election. We dealt with policy changes as they came, had occasional disagreements, but I never lost hope. This time, I lost faith in humanity, my sense of humor, and sank into shame at the spectacle we had become. Thirty-three years of voting and nine presidential elections, I had never seen anything like it. I knew we were better than that.

Shepard Fairey - Greater Than Fear
Almost every segment of our population was targeted and denigrated. That isn't okay, nor should it be treated as the new normal or tolerated at all—particularly for political candidates and those elected. Our country's subtle and not so subtle threads of racism were very visible, along with prejudices against women, LGBTQ+, Muslims, immigrants, people with disabilities… and on and on. There were no limits. As a creative, I thought I would never be able to get out from under the hatred I witnessed to create another piece of art—ever again. I walked for miles and dumped 30,000 words of gibberish out of my brain before I began to make a dent in the rubble that encased my creativity. There was finally a crack of light and a small trickle of inspiration...and then another and another until I had a plan and a line of projects in my queue again.

Illustrating, writing, making music, animating—whatever
Shepard Fairey - Defend Dignity
art you create…it’s an expression and reflection of humanity we desperately need to bring us together. Art can make us feel joy, love, sadness, hope, struggle—all the things we have in common. With art we can motivate, celebrate, understand, inspire and give hope. We can heal our wounds and also shine a light on the real issues we keep trying to sweep under the rug. I'm not talking about political issues. I'm talking about treating each other with dignity and as equals, truly listening with compassion, engaging in thoughtful conversation, and dropping defensiveness. It isn't easy. It takes a lot more effort than bullying and slinging hatred, and it is most definitely worth the struggle to become more invested in each other. We're all in this together.

When his term is over, this incoming president, will go back to his tower. If we don't deal with the things that divide us in the meantime, we will again be fighting among ourselves in the next reality show. We're better than that.

Do whatever you can to keep making art.
Helpful tips to deal with negativity and worry and stay on the creative path:
  • Remember—we’re all in this together. 
  • Have conversations and connect with people.
  • Stay interested and curious about different ideas and viewpoints.
  • Seek commonalities where there don't appear to be any.
    Shepard Fairey - Protect Each Other
  • Stay up on the facts, but don’t become consumed or overwhelmed by the news.
  • Stay clear of trolls. 
  • Listen to real people talk about their lives—from all walks of life. Just...listen. (If you’re isolated, you can listen to or read firsthand accounts online or in books.) Observe what comes up for you. Just...observe. 
  • When worries pop up, ask, Is it true? If it is, do something about it.
  • Get involved or make donations. Even small amounts of time and money can make a profound difference. (The American Civil Liberties Union and the Southern Poverty Law Center were helpful for me. They're working 24/7 to preserve our rights, promote understanding and battle against hatred.)
  • Upset over political policy? Speak up productively. The U.S. government works for the people…all the people. Don’t let them forget it. Pick up the phone and call your representatives. Do your part and free your mind.
  • Refresh non-violent communication skills.
  • Take media breaks. Unplug for as long as you need to. 
  • Fill your brain with art, love, laughter, etc.
  • Create in whatever way you can—as often as possible.
  • Hug the people you love.
  • Hug your pets, if you have them. Their love is unconditional.
  • Remove yourself from people who invalidate your feelings.
  • Don’t invalidate your own experience or pretend it isn’t happening. Work through it.
  • Breathe deeply and be present by engaging with your surroundings with each of your senses—touch, taste, sight, smell and hearing. (I am not suggesting to lick the walls…)
  • Disengage from unproductive conversations that go astray—especially when they undermine you.
  • Spend time in nature.
  • Pay attention to self care - get plenty of exercise and sleep, eat right, etc
  • Walk until you feel the weight lift and the stress break free. This might turn into a longer walk than you expected, so wear the right shoes, bring food, water, a flashlight, etc.
    What to do when you're inspired and feeling good:
    • When you’re inspired—take it and run. Create!
    • Make a ripple. 
    • Share.
    • Pace yourself.
    • Help others find their mojo again. The community needs you and your art to help them recharge again.
    • Make a list of things you can create now and also later. Keep adding to it. This can be a creative bank to use when you’re mired in muck.
    • Develop and refine your system of creating so it becomes second nature. I bust through my issues easier than I would have in the past because of the two mentored programs I did with Chris Oatley. In Painting Drama 1 and 2, I developed a system of finding inspiration and illustrating that I didn’t have before and I am extremely thankful. 
    Stay alert, don’t poke the trolls, take care of yourself and do your best to find laughter and love to sustain your creative endurance. Feel free to add to these lists in the comments.
    Shepard Fairey's beautiful poster art has inspired thousands through several elections. You can download his art through the Amplifier Foundation and you can also see the other artists supporting change through art.