by Matthew Pertz, Opinion Editor
Viola Davis’s epic of an Academy Awards acceptance speech was received with near-universal praise for many good reasons. She was clearly moved by the gravity of the moment and she extolled storytelling on a worldwide stage, inspiring the masses to go out and “exhume those bodies” in search of the untold story.
Davis portrayed Rose Maxson in the film adaptation of August Wilson’s play Fences, winner of the 1987 Tony and Pulitzer awards. She and costar Denzel Washington first revived the play in 2010, originally declining to move the production to the silver screen unless Paramount Pictures, in accordance with Wilson’s wishes, hired a black director who understood the cultural implications of the story (Paramount later signed Washington for the job).
While on stage at the Oscars, Davis proclaimed, “I became an artist, and thank God I did, because we are the only profession that celebrates what it means to live a life,” but that is a few degrees off of the truth. Claiming that artists alone celebrate life is a narrow interpretation of the human experience.
Every person is fitted with their own unique passion because of our inherent nature to justify the life we’ve been given. To say that an accountant doesn’t celebrate life is a fallacy; an accountant just uses his or her life to create in a different way.
As a journalist, I’m partial to believe my peers curate life by bringing real stories to light and exposing power to accountability. The Houston Chronicle released a nine-part investigation detailing the chronic collapse of Texas’s special education programs. KARE-11 in Minneapolis uncovered scandals in the VA, allowing veterans to reach better healthcare. David Farenthold at the Washington Post doggedly chased then-candidate Trump’s tax returns and charitable claims, while months later Jim Scuitto of CNN revealed that the Kremlin might have compromising information on our President. Ta-Nehisi Coates explores racial imbalance and its causes for The Atlantic. The late, great David Carr beautifully covered the impact of media and technology on our collective conscience. All of this reporting chases what is good and valuable in life: truth, balance, democracy, freedom and knowledge. And journalists aren’t considered artists.
Perhaps curbing the definition of “artist” is the real issue. A passive definition of art includes only visual and musical performers. Binding ourselves to this misnomer tampers the human experience. It’s impossible to assess the contributions of different mediums against each other. Which most accurately depicts black America: Toni Morrison’s Jazz, Wesley Lowery’s reporting on police brutality and race relations, “Fences,” Cornel West’s philosophy or Kendrick Lamar’s music? That question will never have an answer, as the medium in which art is created doesn’t change the value of the art itself.
In that sense, artists are not just painters, songwriters and actors. Artists are scientists, mathematicians, bankers, chefs, software engineers, academics, athletes and even those without their purpose. To live life is to be an artist, and in that way we all celebrate our existence.