1024px-Rio_Grande_Gorge_panoThis past week I got a chance to visit with my brother-in-law, a former New York City musician and visual artist transplanted to Taos, New Mexico. Scott told me about a recent meeting of Taos artists where all the attention was directed to drawing more tourists and getting them to buy more art.

Scott’s current project is called Beautiful Midden. For decades, the people of Taos county have dumped their solid waste into gorges connected to the Rio Grande. They then use the old refrigerators and TVs for target practice, sending lead bullets into the water table. Scott’s creative response has been to create art—and help local school kids create art—that calls attention to the landscape’s beauty and the environmental hazards of this dumping. Right now he’s creating a huge sculpture of dangling, painted woks that will become a shooting target at the gorge, but it will collect the bullets to be safely disposed of.

Scott’s reaction to the Taos artists’ meeting was impassioned: Shouldn’t art be of service?

I found his question compelling, especially as it’s not one I ever hear writers ask. The literary world, much like those fine artists displaying their work in Taos plaza galleries, focuses its attention on craft—on rendering works of beauty and balance and wholeness. Literary writers serve art. They do not serve people, or the needs of their community, or social justice issues, or divinity. Continue reading