Someone I know had the privilege of going to Vietnam last year to document another person's journey back for the first time since fighting a war no one really wanted. But rather than being confronted with cold, lonely, worn faces he experienced peace, happiness, resilience and tremendous generosity in the lines etched on the faces of the older individuals he befriended and in the joyful, abundant, carefree laughter of the young children he met.
Another friend (and distant family member:), was in Turkey more recently and the depleted, sad faces you might expect to see in Vietnam colored the faces of refugees he documented. These two experiences are not my own but having been able to see tangible material they came away with from those moments, it got under my skin so much I had to blog about them.
From Vietnam then to Turkey now and everything in between there is truth. The truth in an image of a young naked Vietnamese child running along a bloodied dirt road has been replaced by the truth in the image of a young drowned toddler, washed up on a beach in Greece.
How is it possible we have come so far and yet not that far at all? How is it possible we are allowing our humanity to revert at such a rapid rate globally? How is it that race relations right here in America in 2015 are finding a renaissance equitable to 1963? When did Robert Frost's 'good fences make good neighbors' become something we took literally instead of arguing against?
And what responsibility as artists, as producers of art, as educators of art do we have to create something that helps people answer those questions? Do we have a responsibility?
In an episode of The West Wing, Laura Dern's character, a U.S. Poet Laureate, says, 'You think I think an artist's job is to speak the truth. An artist's job is to captivate you for however long we have asked for your attention. If we stumble into the truth, we got lucky, and I don't get to decide what truth is.'
Now I'm not aware of every minute motivation of the folks I know who went to Vietnam and Turkey; if every one of their experiences were purposeful or if they 'stumbled into the truth' but I am aware that there are forces, whether good or bad not being of consequence, that are slowing the distribution of that work, to which my mind and heart have found truth in. As creators, producers, educators of art, if we allow ourselves to believe in that little bit of Aaron Sorkin script magic, at the very least we must be responsible for allowing that truth we each stumble into, to be experienced. If a tree falls in the woods and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?
If we stumble into the truth while creating and we aren't allowed to share it, or worse, we don't share it, will we ever come closer to answering those questions...come closer to knowing truth?
I hope those pieces of art from Vietnam and Turkey that stumbled into truth whether on purpose or by shear luck find their way to more than those of us who follow these guys on Instagram or Facebook. I hope that any of us who create, when confronted with some truth, acknowledge it and share it. And I hope that the faces around the world and right here at home that know such grief and strife will one day, like the smiling Vietnamese, be able to stumble into truth and to ask confidently and safely....