“The people who are trying to make this world worse aren’t taking a day off. How can I?”
Bob Marley is an iconic figure in history. His music and image are well known all over the world. What is not as well known is that on December 3, 1976, someone tried to rip him open with bullets and take his life.
It was just a couple of days before the “Smile Jamaica” concert, organized by the Jamaican Prime Minister, Michael Manley, in an attempt to bring peace between warring political factions. Some saw Marley’s decision to play in this concert as support for Manley. In the midst of these tensions, a gunman entered Marley’s home and shot him, his wife Rita, and manager Don Taylor. All survived but sustained injuries, Marley to the chest and arm. Nevertheless, just two days later, as scheduled, he appeared on stage with the Wailers to sing and play. When asked why he would choose to perform just two days after an attempt on his life, Marley responded, “The people who are trying to make this world worse aren’t taking a day off. How can I?”
As I reflect back on 2016 on this first day of 2017, the lasting impression is of a year that cast a dark, dark shadow. It was a tumultuous 365 that contained tragedies like Aleppo and tragi-comedies like the US Presidential election. Racists were emboldened to go public, hatred in speech and action was rampant, innocents suffered for others’ political ends, and images of destroyed cities, thousands of refugees and dead children threatened to make us all despair. There was good in 2016, of course, but the bad seemed to outweigh it so much as to crush the life out of it and us.
How to move forward after all of that? It is easy to retreat into our fantasy lands, our distractions and our devices; easy to bury our heads in screens and a virtual reality of our own making. This is especially true for us in the privileged parts of the world, where bombings, death squads, starvation and disease are part of the plot to our favorite Netflix show, not part of our daily lives.
But retreat is cowardice. Retreat is giving in to those who are trying their hardest to make this world worse.
I am an artist, a creative person. I don’t say this in a boastful way. It is simply who I am. I draw, I paint, I sing, I write – creating for me is essential to keeping me from going dead inside. I associate with other creative people, from the local painter toiling in obscurity to the iconic Reggae singer known worldwide. I understand the drive and I understand the risk. Artists can only be truly creative if they are vulnerable. Artists are meant to put themselves out there, on display, warts and all: Open to criticism and disdain, praise and adoration or , worst of all, being ignored.
Creating art and putting it out there is like exposing a wound: It’s painful, it stings but it could possibly bring healing. Artists go against human nature, against the evolutionary grain of self-protection, self-preservation. They play the role of standing in the breach, naked to enemy fire and friendly fire alike, with the possibilities of complete failure or eternal glory hanging in the balance.
Bob Marley knew this. He knew that artists are always in conflict, either with themselves or with the world around them. He put himself out there, exposed. It was where he needed to be and had to be. As someone who created music that gave life and hope, he felt a responsibility to keep on creating no matter how fear and self-preservation may have gripped him.
Pondering this event and considering an artist’s response to the darkness, the void that threatens to suck all the light from the world, I was deeply challenged and greatly inspired. I could not give in to the brutality and banality that was dragging me down. I am an artist and I have a responsibility to respond creatively, hopefully, compassionately. .
To that end I have decided, first of all, to post to this blog each day for the entirety of 2017 – 365 days of Creating Dangerously. What I hope to do is post things about or from artists that inspire me and challenge me to truly live my life. And I hope to also share with you my creativity, my artwork, my words, to give you inspiration and challenge you in your lives. Second of all, I plan on creating a series of paintings this year, with the goal of one per month (or more!). These paintings will be of the artists who have shaped who I am and who I admire, not because they were perfect, but because they were courageous and took risks; because they fought to beat back the darkness and bring light.
On December 30, 2016 I completed the first painting in my series which I share below:
Punk Rock Warlord (Joe Strummer Vs The Void) Ron Kok December 2016 Acrylic on canvas
Joe Strummer was the front man and main songwriter of the legendary British punk band the Clash. But he was so much more than a “rock star”. Joe was as flawed as the next human being but was also deeply passionate about people, about truth and justice, and about being a champion for good in a often nasty world. His desire to connect with people, to demolish the barrier between performer and audience, to empower other artists to find their voice, to keep kicking at the darkness until it bled daylight (to borrow a Bruce Cockburn lyric) has been a continual source of inspiration for me in my life. He was an artist who understood that to make a significant impact, you had to put yourself out there to be spit on (which happened to him quite literally) or loved or both. I guess it’s the vulnerability of someone who half-jokingly referred to himself as a Punk Rock Warlord that I have always admired most.
Joe seemed like a great place for me to start in my Year of Creating Dangerously. I hope you can come along with me for the ride. I want to do my part to be proactive and creative in 2017. I don’t want to sit on the sidelines and bitch and cry. I want to take on the world in the way that I am wired: As an artist. And I want to inspire you and give you hope. I really do. If just one person can be moved to do what is right and good despite all the ugliness around them, I will know that it was all worth it.
I don’t want to take a day off. This fight is too important. Let’s rise above, friends, and give love, embrace hope, spread peace, and speak truth.