Today, at the start of the “holiday season” we have Black Friday, the epitome of the American consumerist culture. We are are continually bombarded with what to buy. We are presented with the dominant cultural narrative that owning products somehow defines us as people and that our identity is determined by what stuff we have, what stuff we wear, what stuff we enjoy, the stuff we consume. This is consistently reinforced by our culture (advertising, tv, etc.) until the acquisition of stuff, otherwise known as “shopping,” becomes a primary life focus and hobby for many Americans. I never go out on Black Friday to shop. When I was in graduate school doing my MA, I lived on Long Island, NY. One year while I was there, on Black Friday, a woman was trampled to death upon entering WalMart when it opened its doors that morning. Trampled to death–for stuff? And people were in such a frenzy upon entering WalMart that they didn’t realize they were crushing another human being beneath their feet? What the heck is wrong with this picture? And this isn’t the only story out there about death and injury from Black Friday. Needless to say, this really reinforced my serious disillusionment with American consumerist culture, especially the “holiday spending season” surrounding Christmas. I’m not critiquing all buying and selling; in other blog posts I’ve also posted about the benefits of localized economies, farmer’s markets, etc. What I’m really critiquing here is the needless acquisition of new stuff for the sake of new stuff and the large-scale corporate capitalism that is killing our planet.
For years I’ve been participating in Adbusters’ “Buy Nothing Day” which is simply that Black Friday you refuse to purchase anything at all. However, while I think this is a great idea, refusing to engage in an activity isn’t really providing a visible alternative or enacting social change…its just…well, disengaging. (I should also add that as consumptive behavior seems to get more extreme each year, so has”buy nothing day” which has now shifted to “buy nothing Christmas.”) But each year, I feel like I should get out there and do something, besides buying nothing.
Free Art Friday: Black Friday Edition: This year, a number of local artists, including myself, are taking a new approach. Rather than going out and buying more stuff (or staying at home and buying nothing in protest), we are engaging in a productive, uplifting activity called “Free Art Friday.” This social movement has been around for a while, and the principles behind are quite simple: 1) make some art; 2) tag it so that people clearly know its free and for them; 3) place it out somewhere on a Friday. Another artist in my town started our own Free Art Friday group, and we’ve been organizing for our big push on Black Friday.
After organizing in advance on Facebook, a group of 10 or so local artists met at our local park this year on Black Friday at noon. Our goal: to give as much art away for free as we could and to saturate the downtown Clarkston (MI) area with free art. Denyse, our fearless leader, called the process “creative altruism” and I really like the term because it embraces the power of the bardic arts–those of friendship, community, and healing. Although it was a bit chilly, and we even had a “wintery mix” of weather towards the end of our time placing art, we spent the early afternoon passing out art, placing it around the area, and engaging in general merriment. Some art was large and left in obvious places around town; some was smaller and tucked away in nooks and crannies, possibly not found and taken for some time. The important part, though, was the act of altruistic giving with nothing expected in return.
As we made our way as a group throughout our small downtown area, we handed out smaller pieces of art (bookmarks, etc) as people walked past. Most people were happy to take such things, although some people seemed initially skeptical that we weren’t selling something. No, really. We weren’t. In fact, the only advertising we had was the URL that linked back to our Facebook group. It really was just that–a free piece of art. Some people refused what we were offering, not citing reasons and hurrying away. Its sad that we have people in our society who are so skeptical and closed off that they aren’t willing to even spend the 30 seconds it would take to explain that the art was free, for them, just because. When I gave one man a hand-painted bookmark in a coffee shop and told him it was for free and for him, he went to pull out his wallet. I said, no, no its FREE. No really, its for free. On Black Friday, of all days, I think the idea that everything must be measured in dollars and cents really hits home–and I’m happy that, at least this one day a year, we were able to show that creative and altruistic pursuits can and do happen.
I’ve written a lot on this blog about the problems of rampant consumerism and shifting to more sustainable solutions. I’ve also argued on this blog that druids are in the position to encourage such alternative ways of thinking and being in the world. Participating in activities like Free Art Friday (Black Friday Edition) while also encouraging the bardic arts is a great way to do this!
Here is a video I put together about our Free Art Friday event and some more photos