Uprising.

Is art ever dangerous? Does it ever really threaten the status quo? Is there any value in speaking truth to power, or in using words to try to take down the powerful?

Let me put it another way: when I was in high school my friends on the debate team were given the question, Is the pen mightier than the sword? And those things were defined pretty broadly. “The pen” was any form of communication while “the sword” was any kind of military power. I wasn’t on the debate team my friends liked to bounce ideas off me, even though I don’t think I was ever much help. On that particular question the best I could offer was that without the kind of organizational structure that “the pen” would provide any kind of large scale military operation would fall apart and even though I don’t think violence really can solve anything—unless your goal is more violence—words by themselves aren’t all that effective. And that’s why I was never in the debate club: with an abstract issue I usually took a nuanced view. I couldn’t come down firmly on one side or the other.

It’s a question that’s stayed with me, though. Because words, because art, can prompt action can we say that “the pen” is mightier than “the sword”? Perhaps, although we’ve also seen that words can be robbed of their power to be effective simply by being ignored, or dismissed, even when those words are powerfully delivered and backed up by facts. In the end, it seems, words only really have power if they appeal to those who wield the sword.

 

14 Comments

  1. mydangblog

    I’ve always thought that the sword was good for the short term but you need the pen to maintain things for the long term. Also, never bring a pen to a sword fight.

    Reply
    1. Bryce Warden

      Takes notes…Never bring a pen to a sword fight. Excellent advice.

      Reply
      1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

        Admittedly it’s all in how you use the pen.

        Reply
    2. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      The whole question of whether the pen is mightier than the sword gets complicated really quickly, although I think you’re right: the pen is needed for long term maintenance. And violent revolutions have a terrible tendency to become the very thing they were trying to overthrow.

      Reply
    3. Tom

      ::like::

      (Chris, you need to add buttons 😉 )

      Reply
      1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

        My technical skills are sadly lacking and a few times when I’ve tried to add things I accidentally locked up the whole site.

        Reply
  2. BarbaraM

    I’m not sure a swastika drawn on the side of a synagogue proves or dis-proves your theory. Especially when one (‘art”) leads to the other (violence).

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      Thank you–that’s an excellent example I think disproves my theory. The swastika is, unfortunately, often effective as a mere threat of violence.

      Reply
  3. Ann Koplow

    Your words have power, Chris. Thank you.

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      Thank you for the power of your words.

      Reply
  4. Bryce Warden

    The “pen” can certainly be powerful when used as propaganda, to mislead, guide, control, console or set free. The pen has a lot of power and the level of power is usually determined by who holds the pen.

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      That’s a good point: power is often in the pen holder simply because the pen has the power to influence. This is all underlining why I was smart to never join the debate club.

      Reply
  5. Jay

    Hell yes, good art SHOULD be disruptive!

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      Yes, especially now when there’s so much at stake. Stendahl said that politics in art is like a pistol shot in a concert hall, but what he didn’t say is that sometimes that can be exactly what’s needed.

      Reply

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