A Manifesto for Humans: On Art, Writing, and Life.

As in art, so in life. 

Freedom of artistic expression is democracy’s canary in the coalmine. We need to remind ourselves, in a new era of chilling effect, where artists increasingly censor themselves: how to make art, how to live life, how to be human. 

Be human first

– Art must be free to be complex, nuanced, and undidactic

– Nobody gives a shit about your (special) identity
            Your identity should be the least interesting thing about you (to paraphrase Mssr. Harris). The content of your ideas – and of your character – matters. Immutable identity characteristics shouldn’t.

– Stop self-identifying as things 
            Reality is sticky; reality is oblivious to your self-identification. If you are a thing, in actuality, self-identifying is redundant – therefore to self-identify is to reveal what you are not, but crave to be. Curation of the self is self-negating; it will always keep you from authenticity. Don’t ‘identify’, simply ‘be’.

– Other people are not non-player characters that exist to validate you

– If your art is a relentless screech about MY IDENTITY, you are not so much an artist, as a narcissist

– Resist presentist pressure to treat people as hero or villain according to identity 
            If your cookie-cutter characters are back-written to appease a social justice script, you’re not an artist, but a two-bit propagandist. In art, in life, people are not merely group representatives. See the person (write the character), not the ‘identity’. 

– You are not oppressed by differing opinions 
            If you try to silence others because you are uncomfortable, you are the oppressor. If you claim words make you ‘unsafe’, you are authoritarian. 

– ‘Do I offend you? And…?’ 
            Don’t indulge the passive aggressive shut-down of freedom of expression.  When others cannot sit with discomfort in disagreement, it is a them problem, not a you problem.

– Resist those who would make art a safe space 
            Art is not meant to a safe space. Go to the difficult places, linger in the dark corners. Be unsafe. 

– Approach everything with empathy, an open heart, and good faith
            even – in fact especially – for the bad guy. Never lose the nuance nor flatten the complexity – it is your job to be truthful.  

– If you find hate everywhere, it is you who are hateful

– Always be the whistle-blower, not the tribalist
            Be the kid who calls out the naked emperor. This is a matter of integrity. Be sure you can face yourself in the mirror each day. 

– Identity is the new religion, intersectionality its credo, gender theology its fundamentalist wing. Be a heretic. 

– In a world where you have to choose between the puritan and the punk – be the punk
            punk punctures prissy pompous puritanism

– In art, in life – truth matters

– You cannot change reality by forcing language change or enforcing narrative 
            The attempt to do so is totalitarianism in action.

– If your theory doesn’t track reality, it is a bad theory

– Don’t stay in your lane
            Get all the way the fuck out of your lane. Let your imagination roam where it will. Ignore identity zealots: putting yourself in the shoes of people whose experience is dissimilar to your own is not a transgression. This is how we make art. Imagination doesn’t infringe upon others’ experience; and others’ experience shouldn’t castrate imagination. 

– Self-censorship and creativity are incompatible
            Be spontaneous. Don’t check yourself. Play. Don’t be afraid. Don’t self-police. No judgement of self or others when brainstorming. 

– Never submit to your work being gutted by sensitivity readers 
            This is bowdlerisation. Butchery by philistines. Pre-approved art is not art. 

If work were forever hitched to its maker, and their purity a prerequisite for its appreciation or usefulness, then no human progress would ever have been possible. 
            “Literature is self-validating. That is to say a book is not justified by its author’s worthiness to write it, but by the quality of what has been done” Salman Rushdie, 1982 

– When you are engaged in art, you are engaged in the human universal
            Which is to say, the sacred. It transcends our petty chauvinistic differences. That is literally its purpose – and it is a higher purpose. Tell all the stories from everyone everywhere, but never believe that ‘I am such a fundamentally different human to you, that you can never understand my story’. When you say someone may not act a role or write a part or paint a picture because ‘identity’, you betray all that is human and all that is sacred, and you make our world infinitesimally small. If your understanding of authenticity is tethered to superficial identity characteristics, you have a facile understanding of authenticity.

– Life’s fundamentals transcend politics 
            If the notion that ‘the personal is political’ comes to mean that no part of life is let be, no matter how sacred, no telos is uncorrupted by political agenda, nor person permitted to don responsibility for their own human frailty: this is a metastisization; this is totalitarianism. To force love, family, and – yes – art through a political mangle is to commit atrocity.

– Be human first



This piece is really more of a cross between a manifesto, an open letter, and an artwork in itself.  Basically a very distilled version of everything I’ve been thinking about this last 5 years, and each bullet point cd also be the placeholder for a book chapter.

It’s a riposte to the incursion of critical theory tenets into art and life, which I see as intimately connected. It’s trying to point out from a human perspective, and thus from an artist’s perspective, why this is disastrous, and how to stand against it. It’s sort of a pitch for universalism in opposition to identitarianism, through the lens of art practise. 

I was provoked initially to create it as a response to a writing guide that seemed to typify everything that’s wrong with arts at the moment – the hideous corruption of everything sacred about humanity by cramming everything relentlessly through the lens of oppression and power.

I tried to group the thoughts thematically. I guess I started with the ‘life’ part and the attack on reality and narcissism, and move onto the art part, with trying to do away with the whole stay in your lane identity stuff. I feel it is all related.

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