ART is the EXPOSER.
When we throw ourselves into creating our art it often reveals 2 things:
1. Where we are in the mastery of our chosen tools of creativity
2. Where we are as a person
Both of these require honest observation. It is much easier to think our art is fine and we are wonderful people. But as we know, growth seldom takes place without pain. And so we avoid self-critiquing. And why not? For many years now we have been told that we are beautiful inside, maybe even perfect. Everyone gets a STAR. Everyone gets a TROPHY. Everyone is a WINNER.
And then we act surprised when a person grows into an ENTITLED ADULT. Our society promotes and reinforces the ME. The COMMUNITY disintegrates for the benefit of the ONE. Has it always been this way? Maybe. But maybe we nurtured this destructive worldview in recent history.
A few Sundays ago while savoring a morning coffee, reading the paper, and enjoying weekend conversation with Marsha, she pointed out an article by David Brooks, a columnist for the New York Times, entitled When Cultures Shift.
David started his article by contrasting Johnny Unitas with Joe Namath; one purposefully unglamorous, the other zealously flashy. This contrast illustrated the cultural shift from self-effacement to self-expression: the latter what I will call “me-ism.” David refuted the commonly held belief that this shift all came out of the 60s. He takes us further back to the new opportunities that surfaced right after WWII. (I, for one, appreciate some of the finger pointing of “me-ism” being expanded beyond the Boomer Generation.)
David gave further examples of this cultural shift through popular books, popular psychology, and the social media. If I could distill his article down to a phrase it would be: It is no longer WE, but ME. And here is the quote that I highlighted in yellow: (Very analog of me, don’t you think?)
You build your career by building on your strengths, but you improve your character by trying to address your weaknesses.
Do you see the glaring assumption? We have weaknesses! We will always have weaknesses. We are not perfect. We don’t always deserve the star or trophy. And painfully enough, we are not always winners. (If this is new to you, inset your favorite expletive here.)
So what does art have to do with all this?
ART is the EXPOSER.
The viewers / listeners of a piece of art can be moved outside of themselves. They can enter new worlds to explore thoughts and emotions that are revealed only by stepping away from the status quo and the unceasing me-ism. Just this morning I read a letter of C. S. Lewis in which he told his friend, Arthur, that the music he recently experienced “really carried me out of myself.”
But what about the CREATIVE, the one who produces the art? What happens to us when we truthfully tackle a creative expression? We see our frailty and the frailty of our fellow sojourners. Our response to this will be informed by our cosmology. ”Is it all about ME … or WE?”
If I am the focal point, I really don’t take into account what others think, or want, or need. I am about satisfying me. Behind this crumbling door waits madness.
If my art is not exclusively about me but we, I then have an obligation to bring stories of health, hope, and joy to those who interact with my art. And I am unable to do this without accepting and addressing my own weaknesses.
Is art more than the beautiful image on the wall? More than the enchanting melody from the hall? More than the engaging story from the comfortable chair?
I guess it all depends. Is it ME … or is it WE?
What do you think?
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I’m Preston McCracken, join me in ENLARGING OUR LIVES.