Artists In Times Of Crisis

Joshua Caldwell
8 min readAug 14, 2023

Facing a world in turmoil, artists from every field are grappling with a poignant question: what good can their craft do when the world appears to be unraveling? Between climate change, political upheaval, economic crisis, and labor strikes in various industries, including the WGA and SAG strikes, the chaos can seem overwhelming and unrelenting. Whether it’s natural disasters, escalating allegations in various sectors, rampant gun violence, or polarizing political commentary, we are constantly bombarded with a deluge of distressing events.

In the midst of this, the words of L. Ron Hubbard resonate, regardless of one’s opinion of Scientology:

“A culture is only as great as its dreams, and its dreams are dreamed by artists.”

In these trying times, artists reflect the world back at us, acting as guides to navigate life in ways others can’t, helping us understand the complex fabric of our existence.

My own work, such as Layover, paints the picture of an individual in a personal crisis. The characters in Negative and Ciudad echo our struggles amidst a world in turmoil, embodying the courage and resilience it takes to confront our harsh realities. But art’s power extends far beyond the silver screen.

In literature, authors pen novels and poetry that echo the human condition, offering a safe space to explore fears and hopes. Books like “1984” or “The Handmaid’s Tale” warn us of dystopian futures, allowing us to reflect on our own society and its potential paths.

In music, songwriters craft melodies and lyrics that capture the mood of a generation. Think of Bob Dylan’s protest songs during the Civil Rights Movement, or more recently, how artists from various genres have raised their voices about mental health, equality, and the environment.

Visual artists too, through painting, sculpture, or photography, create pieces that become cultural symbols. Banksy’s street art, for instance, challenges political norms and makes profound statements about society, all while remaining anonymous.

Why should artists persist in such challenging times? Because the world needs them to. Artists interpret the chaos, making it understandable, even palatable. They reveal both beauty and grotesqueness, incite discussions, and challenge norms. They keep humanity’s spirit alive.

Oliver Stone: A Cinematic Voice in Times of Crisis

Creating art during a crisis is no small feat. Consider the career of filmmaker Oliver Stone, whose body of work stands as a profound testament to the power of cinema to reflect and critique society, even during its most tumultuous times.

Stone’s film PLATOON (1986) provides an unvarnished look at the Vietnam War. Through the eyes of a young infantryman, it challenges conventional wisdom about the nature of warfare, depicting the moral ambiguity, trauma, and the human cost often glossed over in more glorified portrayals. The movie’s release, over a decade after the war’s end, served as a painful reminder of a still-fresh wound in American history and sparked renewed conversations about military engagement.

WALL STREET (1987) is another example of Stone’s inclination to dissect cultural norms. At a time of rampant financial deregulation and economic greed, the film brought the unethical practices of investment banking into the public eye. The now-infamous line “Greed, for lack of a better word, is good” not only became a symbol of the era but also prompted a critical examination of capitalist values and the ethics of wealth accumulation.

In JFK (1991), Stone delved into more than just the controversial assassination of President John F. Kennedy; he probed into the very heart of public trust and democratic ideals. The film, through its alternative theory about Kennedy’s assassination, ignited renewed interest in an event that had shaped the modern American psyche.

The assassination itself was a shocking moment in history, but Stone’s interpretation of the event went further by challenging the Warren Commission’s official narrative. Through his meticulous and sometimes controversial use of both fictionalized scenarios and actual historical footage, Stone presented a possibility that the assassination was not the act of a lone gunman but possibly a conspiracy that might have involved government agencies.

The implications were immense. Stone’s JFK was not merely questioning a historical fact; it was casting doubt on whether the government is always truthful with its citizens. It raised unsettling questions about transparency, integrity, and the very principles that underpin democratic governance. Could the government manipulate or even fabricate the truth? Is the government always acting in the best interest of its people, or are there hidden agendas driven by unseen forces?

Stone’s narrative tapped into a deep-seated mistrust that some had already harbored, while for others, it opened new avenues of doubt and speculation. It wasn’t just a film about an assassination; it was a critique of the establishment, an exploration of betrayal by those in power, and a call to the citizenry to question, to probe, and to never take ‘official’ truths at face value.

Furthermore, JFK stimulated debates that reached far beyond the cinema. It led to discussions in media, academia, and even Congress. The film played a significant role in the passage of the President John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Collection Act of 1992, leading to the declassification of thousands of documents related to the assassination.

Stone’s approach to the subject was often criticized as conspiratorial or sensationalist, but it was undeniably influential. JFK was more than a historical drama; it was a cultural event that provoked a national re-examination of trust in government and the very nature of truth in a complex world.

In an era where misinformation and mistrust in institutions have become increasingly prevalent, JFK continues to resonate. It serves as a reminder that art can be a powerful tool in challenging complacency, encouraging critical thinking, and fostering a healthy skepticism that is vital in a democratic society. Stone’s bold storytelling not only entertained but educated and activated, showing that cinema could be a force for civic engagement and democratic vitality.

His later work, WORLD TRADE CENTER (2006), focused on the personal stories of two Port Authority Police Officers trapped in the rubble of the September 11th attacks. While some criticized the film for being too soon or too sentimental, Stone’s choice to humanize a global tragedy, to focus on the individual experiences of courage and survival, offered a unique perspective. It asked audiences to reflect not just on the geopolitical implications but the human ones as well.

Then there’s SNOWDEN (2016), where Stone tackled the complex issue of government surveillance, telling the story of Edward Snowden, the NSA whistleblower. In an age where privacy concerns have become paramount, the film pushed viewers to consider their own relationship with technology and governmental overreach. It provoked essential questions about the balance between security and personal freedom.

Oliver Stone’s films are not just entertainment; they are cultural artifacts, reflective of their times and often ahead of them. They challenge, provoke, and sometimes even disturb, but always with a purpose. They compel us to confront uncomfortable truths, to question accepted narratives, and to think critically about the world around us.

In a career spanning decades, Stone’s courageous storytelling stands as a stark reminder of art’s power in communicating the human experience in all its grit and glory. His ability to translate complex political and social issues into compelling narratives provides a model for all artists, showing that even in times of crisis, art can be a beacon, illuminating the way and inspiring change.

But the journey of creating art in times of crisis is labyrinthine. The path may be obscured by uncertainty, yet history reminds us that the world has faced crises before, always finding its way out through hope, resilience, and creativity.

As artists, self-care is paramount, as is the continued pursuit to listen, empathize, learn, and grow. Art can be catharsis, a medium to process emotions and experiences.

Leonard Bernstein’s immortal words encapsulate this sentiment:

“This will be our reply to violence: to make music more intensely, more beautifully, more devotedly than ever before.”

Replace ‘music’ with your art form of choice. This is the call to all creators, a challenge to be more passionate, beautiful, and devoted in their craft.

Across fields, whether filmmaking, writing, music, painting, or any other form of expression, the message is clear: Your voice, your vision, your dream is needed now more than ever.

So to you, artist in the heart of this crisis, whether seasoned or just starting, whether applauded or unacknowledged, I pose this question: Amidst the chaos, how will your art shed light in the darkness? What good can your creation do when all seems lost?

Embrace your craft, and never underestimate its power to heal, to inspire, and to make a difference. The world is waiting for your contribution, your unique perspective. In times of turbulence, it’s the artists who often lead the way, illuminating paths we never thought possible.

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Joshua Caldwell is a director, writer, producer, and MTV Movie Award Winner. His debut feature film LAYOVER was made for $6000 and had its World Premiere to sold out crowds at the 2014 Seattle International Film Festival where it was nominated for the prestigious FIPRESCI New American Cinema Award. He wrote and directed INFAMOUS, starring Bella Thorne which was the #1 New Movie in America the week of its debut. Indiewire called the film “nihilistic and uncomfortably believable” with “an appropriately nutso performance from Bella Thorne.” Screenrant wrote “A thrilling crime drama and compelling character study” while Variety called it “perversely fascinating” and “infused with kinetic verve.” His latest film MENDING THE LINE, stars Brian Cox, Sinqua Walls, Perry Mattfeld and Wes Studi. The story of a marine injured in Afghanistan who meets a Vietnam Vet who teaches him how to fly fish as a way of dealing with his trauma, the film was released in theaters in June 2023 and is FRESH on

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Joshua Caldwell

Director, Producer, Writer, MENDING THE LINE, INFAMOUS, NEGATIVE, LAYOVER. MTV Movie Award Winner. Reel: