By Rebecca J. Barnabi
Art not only imitates life, art helps human beings to get through life.
Theatre productions, music, movies and fine arts have frequently been influenced by the events of life going on around the artists that create them.
In the 1980s, artists affected by the AIDS epidemic were compelled to create art that reflected their frustration and helplessness. David Wojnarowicz’s video “A Fire in My Belly’ in 1986-1987 was made in response to what the artist felt was a lack of empathy towards the growing epidemic.
“A Fire in My Belly” was pulled from exhibit in the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery in D.C. last fall. A scene depicting ants crawling on a crucifix created outrage amongst religious groups. However, the video played at 1708 Gallery in Richmond, Va. from late January through mid-February of this year without controversial results.
A story of eight young people in New York City, four of which are living with HIV, became the hit theatre production “Rent,” which ran on Broadway for 12 years. “Rent’s” writer Jonathan Larson died on January 25, 1996 just before it opened on Broadway.
Jonathan Demme’s 1993 film “Philadelphia,” starring Tom Hanks and Denzel Washington, brought the reality of AIDS and its effects on families and individuals to the big screen
The attacks on September 11, 2001 inspired the work of artists such as Green Day’s song “Wake Me Up When September Comes” and “World On Fire” by Sarah McLachlan, found on her 2003 album “Afterglow.” Even country music songs like Alan Jackson’s “Where Were You When the World Stopped Turning” and Toby Keith’s “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue” illustrated different reactions to that day’s tragedy.
Hundreds of years ago, it’s possible that actual events of a feud between two Italian families and the two young lovers who got caught in the middle inspired William Shakespeare’s play “Romeo & Juliet.”
Produced many times for the stage since, while its playwright has sometimes been accused of plagiarism of the story, the possible true story of “Romeo & Juliet” is explained in great and believable detail in Anne Fortier’s 2010 novel “Juliet.” Even hundreds of years later, a story of two doomed lovers inspires art.
Art inspired by difficult things in life may help the artists who create it to cope with reality, but, more importantly, it helps listeners and viewers to cope and know that they are not alone in their struggles.