An Artist’s Duty: A Conversation with Aleta Myles


Creativity is intertwined with culture. Art has long been a form of activism, a way to change the status quo. Everyone making art wants to change perceptions, to challenge stereotypes. The most important artists of our time are those who dream of leaving the world a better place than they found it. And some are realizing that dream.

My friend Aleta Myles is an actor, singer, makeup artist, and YouTube star with a passion for starting dialogue through art, and building bridges with storytelling. Whether you’re left laughing, crying, or thinking in a new way, Aleta and her work will change you.

For her, creativity is an integral part of the human conversation. Making art can be a step on the pathway to healing.  She and I had a great talk recently about what it means to be an artist, and the role of artistic expression in creating community.

[BTW: There’s a lack-of-line-break weirdness below that I’m still trying to fix. Thank you for your patience!]

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Of the characters you’ve created, do you have a favorite? Why or why not? Which
character do you most identify with?
 I don’t know if I would say [I have a] favorite. There are a few whom I have fleshed out a bit more so they are easier to work with. I have feel very attached to them and love them for different reasons. I really wish they weren’t me so I could hang out with them. They all carry elements of my personality and beliefs, even if it’s wacky or silly. I have yet to create a character that has conflicted with me: if they do they don’t stay around long.
Who are your heroes and why?
I’m still gaining heroes but I will say Carol Burnett, Tracy Ullman and In Living Color had a huge effect on me. I love watching them and laughing. Annie [the movie] has always been my favorite. When I first saw Carol Burnett, I was in love. She was silly and not afraid to be crazy. I have real life heroes who are actors that i get to work with and call my friends, they inspire me more than anything. I am inspired by the bravery of artists. I am inspired by vulnerability. To be an artist and to be an actor is the most vulnerable thing you can do…if you do it right…it’s not pretend it is a form of vulnerability. 
What are your goals or resolutions for this year?
My goals are to keep creating and ask questions later. I tend to question things to death, instead of releasing content. I’m also resolving to floss more.
How does being a black woman living in America shape your art or your approach to art?
You can have a few approaches as a Black creative: you can speak about your difference and celebrate it, highlight the needs, highlight the humanity  or for some it never comes into question: they don’t identify their culture and their art together.
I love the quote from Nina Simone: “You can’t help it. An artist’s duty, as far as I’m concerned, is to reflect the times.”   It’s a line that is good to blur into one. Sometimes I battle because I love creating characters and I love humor. When it comes to the heart and things that are important to me, I would rather have a conversation about it. I haven’t [fully] learned the art of letting my humor in when it comes to things that make my heart beat fast!  I’m [still] learning.
I’m more of a therapist/ educator when it comes to speaking on current events and history. My other struggle  is possibly just my own,  but I loathe the way my ancestors had to come through minstrel shows and some of the content that was created with them as the joke. Sometimes I struggle with being perceived as a minstrel show because I am funny woman of color. I never want that. I know people whose content is considered “chittlin circuit” but i just want to create content without it being put in another box. 
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What does diversity mean to you?
Diversity is not being able to tell who is in “the Majority”. There is enough uniqueness to be represented that is most definitely NOT represented. Diversity needs to represent the world we live in and having the conversations that break down things that separate us. The lack of diversity is SO strong in American entertainment that when you try to create content that is “diverse” people don’t think it’s believable. But that is only because folks need time to change their entertainment diet–they’ll get used to it and start to enjoy it when you put it on their plate more than once a year.
What was the last book you read?
I last read the Autobiography of Frederick Douglass. [It was] Black History Month so I felt it was a good choice!
 What issues affecting you/your community are you most passionate about? 
The justice system, laws that are in effect that are oppressive, housing inequality, education inequality, financial inequality… [When I] talk about these issues people often either roll their eyes [or] under their breath say, ” It’s not that bad” “Get over it” or “All lives matter” . . .  When I hear that, I think, “That’s an amazing point of view when it’s not affecting you. What you mean is it’s not that bad for YOU. So let’s get down to the root. YOU don’t care. Just say that”.  I am not afraid of those conversations because honesty is  the start to healing.
Can art and creativity solve social problems? (Why or why not?)
Most definitely! Art opens the soul and then you can insert truth. The arts are cathartic. It isn’t the only way to solve problems but it is one way.
What progress can you see in diversity/inclusion of everyone in the human story?
Love. When you can see we are all human and broken and it’s celebrated…that is LOVE…that is God’s best, in my opinion. We are made beautifully broken.
James Baldwin said : 
JB quote
Boom! Enough said. Healing hurts. Prejudice is so arrogant and fearful: it clings on being “right” it doesn’t want to be healed because it’s afraid of pain. But the pain won’t last. Healing is possible.
What work still needs to be done to better celebrate diversity and inclusion and how do artists help? 
Art is a way of allowing people to tell their stories. Being honest about your journey is healing to you and others. Let people tell THEIR OWN story…not a second hand observance of what you think someone is dealing with. Empathy is awesome but it is still coming through your filter of understanding. I think we need to shut up and listen to each other. 
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Aleta Myles lives and works in Nashville, TN. To learn more about her work, watch her videos, or contact her for a booking, please visit her website and social media pages. 

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