The secret purpose of art?
Over the past week, I’ve told a story about my friend Matt like three separate times, so my little woowoo brain is thinking that maybe…
Over the past week, I’ve told a story about my friend Matt like three separate times, so my little woowoo brain is thinking that maybe there’s a thread of feeling running through more than just me and my friends. There are tons of reasons that people make art and creative projects, and Matt helped me unpack and hone in on a major reason art resonates and is meaningful, to both the artist and the audience/community.
For a few years before 2017, I was working on a graphic memoir about being in an abusive relationship. You know, just a little light reading for the general public, that’s my jam. It was obviously super intense, and artists like Matt and my friend Tom were helping me navigate how I was thinking about it and producing it. As #metoo started erupting, and I went public along with the tons of other victims/survivors of this dude, I started trying to figure out what I should do with the memoir. I decided I was going to expand it into being a guide to predators in general, how they operate, how they’re not the “monsters” society wants them to be. “Monsters” are easier to manage in society; they are singular bad apples, and placing them in an “other” category eliminates our collective responsibility to look at the systems that create them. (You may notice I still have strong feelings about this, heh.)
Diving into the world of predators was going to be really intense, and while talking through it with Matt one day, he said, “Why are you doing this?” And I said, “I think it could be really helpful for other people to learn from my experience, to understand how common predators really are, and all of the contradictions that go into them.” And he said, “No.”
Matt said, “You don’t make art because it will help people, or because it serves a cause. You make art because you can’t not make art.” That struck me as rather high-falutin’ and selfish, to be honest. I’m not that fancy! I’m not An Artiste! But he continued, “If you make art from that place, the place where you can’t not do it, you automatically help people and serve causes because it’s coming from an authentic place, a source that’s divine, that has a relationship to God/the universe.” OH. Well, when you put it THAT way.
It reminds me of how Buddhists are obsessed with compassion and loving-kindness, and part of that obsession is showing yourself the compassion and loving-kindness you show others. You are included in it because you are part of it, and you are both the source and the receiver. When you’re doing a loving-kindness meditation, you start with loving-kindness for yourself, and then it radiates out from there. After our conversation, Matt sent me a copy of Kandinsky’s Concerning the Spiritual in Art, which, I gotta tell ya, will totally blow your mind if you’re running in this vein of creating, too.
In the end, I realized a couple things with that project: one, I really did not want to spend a few years writing about predators. It was not something inside me dying to get out, it was something I felt I should do with my art. Two, what I wanted to do — help people see and understand how predators operate and how even the most publicly fierce of people can be drawn in by them — was accomplished by the group of stories that This American Life chose to use. They produced a piece that was just so gorgeous, and that decentered the predator’s own story in a brilliant way. That work accomplished what I thought I wanted to do far more effectively than by centering the predators. Damn!
At first, that depressed the hell out of me. Ugh, I’m too late again, I have the wrong perspective, I chose badly. Stupid me. But what started to emerge, though, was a feeling of being liberated from the “should” I was feeling. When I started to remove my own ego from it (a very, very hard thing for a Leo to do) and see that the goal-product had been accomplished and I loved it, even though *I* didn’t create it, I was freed from the obligation I had created for myself. I was free to focus on ideas and feelings I actually felt drawn to, and that actually felt like they were coming from inside me.
Of course, I had no idea what that was and didn’t feel anything coming from me for what seemed like forever, so I figured of course, “Welp! That’s it for me as an artist! I guess I’m all out of ideas!” I’ll save how I worked through that mess for another day.