Beyond the Artistic Value of Protesting

Something I appreciate about museums and art galleries is that I can observe an art piece and tell the person standing next to me what I see in it.  And that person can say “Ah, I see that now.”  And then they can tell me how they see it, and I can nod with my thumb holding up my chin and my index finger covering my lips. Perhaps I can learn a thing or two from their perspective. Perhaps they can learn from mine. And perhaps I can draw from what I’ve learned and do something about it, if the message calls for that.

A political demonstration, or a presentation that evokes endless opinions and interpretations, can be like a polarizing work of art. For better or worse, some artists find satisfaction in seeing their work draw any reaction from an audience. Personally, my heart skips a beat or two when I’m on the receiving end of negative criticism, but the greater me appreciates when people take the time to formulate and communicate an honest opinion of my work.

Take, for example, the controversy around NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s protest against police brutality and racial injustice in America. He has chosen to express his concerns by taking a knee before the start of each game, during the singing of the National Anthem. This demonstration forms a powerful image: One man kneeling among all others standing, some with hands placed over their hearts, while an amazing singer belts out the sacred song that is a symbol of national pride and patriotism, as well as a tribute to our military, including those who have died. Flags are waving. Many in the stands are visibly upset with the man kneeling, but some are supporting him.

If you’ve been following this protest, then you already know that there are enough opinions about it to fill a hundred football stadiums. Each opinion based on a different interpretation of the image I just described.

Of course, there is also Mr. Kaepernick’s own interpretation of his demonstration — the one that should matter most (in my opinion). But the thing is, powerful art hits you right in the heart. It can lift you up, insult you, make you cry, threaten you, make you laugh really hard, or inspire you.  These are powerful emotions, and once we get to such a place, I believe it’s difficult to validate a different interpretation, let alone embrace one.

If only people could hear and see Mr. Kaepernick’s intended message through an artistic lens“We need to do more to prevent police brutality and eliminate racial inequality against racial minorities in America” — resolve to address it in their own way (because his message calls for that), AND if needed, respectfully voice their concerns about how his demonstration affects them (ie Making a political statement during the singing of the Star Spangled Banner is inappropriate because it draws attention away from the honoring of our military and our country in general…”), regardless of his intentions, and let him truly hear that and respond from a place of compassion.

Kaepernick’s decision to take a knee is a significant shift from his original iteration, which was to remain seated in his chair. I’ve noticed people answering his call, including a growing number of athletes who are joining him in protest. What continues to concern me is that with most issues in our news headlines, there is a strong sense of this opinion vs that opinion. There is not enough respect in the dialogue, and there are words thrown around like disgrace, unpatriotic, ignorant, etc. I wonder what would happen if we didn’t let our opinions take away our ability to hear the others in “the museum.”  Maybe there are things you don’t know or haven’t considered pertaining to the subject matter. Maybe, if we’re open enough, our opinions would shift, allowing us to see the art in a new way.