In the wake of school shootings, political corruption, civil wars, nuclear proliferation and all the other horrors that we’re exposed to every day on our Facebook feeds and nightly news, it’s pretty easy to get cynical about this world. And you know, you might be right to do so. The world is kind of terrible.
In fact, recently it’s seemed a bit off the hinges. Now, whether that’s the news cycle or reality, I don’t know. It’s not something I really want to argue about.
It’s also not exactly what we’re talking about today.
Today we’re trying to stay positive. Terrible things have always been and will always be. That’s a sad given. So instead of whining about the inevitable, let’s talk about how we can use our creativity and free expressions to maybe deal with this shit hole of a place and just possibly make it suck a little less?
Breathing is critical
First things first. Don’t forget to breathe. It keeps you alive. In fact, it does more than that. It offers perspective. And perspective is kind of important.
Perspective begets reflection, and reflection begets expression.
This process allows you clearly articulate your thoughts and ideas in a precise and meaningful way.
How that expression manifests is irrelevant: be it expository writing, painting, poetry, songwriting, or whatever. The medium is inconsequential.
The art is not the medium. You are the art.
So get the fuck off your Facebook, take a deep breath, and let’s get started.
Creativity is Communication
Here’s the most important thing to remember. Art is communication. It’s nothing else.
What do I mean by that?
Lot’s of people don’t get art. Like holistically. People try, sometimes, but they mostly wax on about irrelevant things. “What does the author mean?” and other stupid random thoughts.
The reason is that most people confuse art as something inaccessible or obtuse. Something foreign, like it’s the schematics of a rocket engine’s exhaust system.
It’s not. Nor should it be.
Art. Be it high art, low art, comic books, Madame Bovary, or porn. All of it is communication. It aims to do one thing, to share an expression that is fundamentally difficult to express.
Art seeks empathy.
Think about a movie you saw recently. We’ll say it’s an action movie. Shit blew up, people got gat, etc.
Why did you give a damn?
Cause blowing up stuff is fun? Well, it is, but I think you’d get bored with just watching random explosions for 2 hours.
Typically, what draws most civil and intelligent people to a movie, is why exactly stuff is blowing up.
Let me unpack that.
What led to the onset of action? Was is it because someone was betrayed? Was someone framed? Does the government want this person killed? Does an evil genius want to control something? And why exactly do you want this person not to blow up? Is it because they have a wife, a love interest, they’re morally upright? They seem nice?
These are the things that draw us in. It’s the human, emotional response to the chaos that we care about in the action movie. And why do we care about it? Because we can relate to it.
Now likely, you’ll never be in a similar situation. You’re probably not a spy. The government probably didn’t send assassins after you. BUT. Maybe you too would want to blow up a building if your boss fired you. Maybe you would kill a 1,000 Nazis to save your girlfriend.
The action movie is just a hyper action filled metaphor of a foundational emotion that really gets to shine when set in this super intense situation of an action movie.
The art manifests itself when all the people watching the movie share the emotion, when they can empathize with the emotion, and when they become tied together through this empathy.
Art is Community Building
So if you think about it, artistic expression is all about community building. The artist pushes an idea inherently difficult to convey into the world couched inside a metaphor, and the world responds.
Think about Taylor Swift and her hordes of teenage girl fans. So many broken hearts. But really, who the hell can’t relate to a broken heart? If you’ve never been dumped, you can go ahead and stop reading my blog.
Even better, think about country music, omg, the trucks, the honky tonks, the clothes. It’s more than the music, it’s a cultural community with shared collective values rooted in a sound.
It’s really the same with any genre: rap, fantasy fiction, or comic books.
Now you can be cynical about all this, say it’s marketing, and some of it might be. But why is it marketable? Because people are desperate for emotional connection. Art facilitates this.
Connections are critical in this world. It’s the reason we join religions, start families, and fly flags. We’re not alligators, we value other people. But god damn it, it’s really hard to express the complexities of our feelings. Ask anyone who’s ever been married.
That’s why we have art. It does the heavy lifting for us.
Just to say what I hope shouldn’t need to be said: community building isn’t about separating. I mean, that’s a quick and dirty way to bring people together, but it’s also morally repugnant.
I don’t believe in exclusive communities. There are plenty of Taylor Swift fans that like a broad swath of music, live in multiple geographical locations, read a range of books and probably enjoy all sorts of crazy things.
People move in and out of artistic communities freely. And they should. It’s not about being exclusive, it’s about offering a separate sanctuary for people to share a belief or emotion for a time. I mean, you don’t listen to that sad pappy music all the time? Just on rainy days, right?
Create the Community you Would Live In
So here’s where we make the turn to solving the terrible world conundrum.
I will use the overused Gandhi quote everybody and their dog uses? “Be the change you want to see in the world.”
Point taken, G man.
Let’s take that a step forward. Let’s create the artistic communities we want to live in.
Like it or not, artists are leaders. They take a position by creating a space for people to experience the world together. That’s why we have movie theaters and dance halls.
Art, in this sense, is extreme power.
I mean, what’s the U.S. Constitution if it isn’t simply an artistic creation that brought into the world a space for people with a shared ideological framework.
A song, a book, a poem, a photograph…really, these things are no different.
Now, I’m not saying go out and write protest songs or whatever. I mean, you could do that. It worked for Pete Seeger.
What I am saying is that your art should express your values and priorities, and it should originate from a place sincerity, authenticity, and responsibility.
How or what you build is up to you. It could be a community rooted in the complex feelings of romantic love. Or maybe feelings of loneliness. Maybe the morality of a specific political ideology. Maybe your community is rooted in a new vision of the future. It can be anything you want.
So to recap, the world is a hell hole on the brink of collapse. Sorry. But, just maybe you can make it a little better before it teeters over the edge into the sunken abyss of hell that it deserves to fall in to.
And just maybe you can do this not by consuming culture and yelling at your TV. But instead, using your body and mind to produce something new. Something to share, to give to other people, so they can meet you in a new space built on unity and empathy.