Shakespeare said that art is a mirror held up to nature. And so it is. When it comes down to it the universe is really just another artist. It created the giraffe, the platypus, and the cat’s eye. It miraculously created the mind of mankind, which it uses like a paint brush of meaning dipped in Time and painted upon an infinite canvas of otherwise meaningless space.
More importantly, it has creatively evolved conscious awareness, a vast network of perception that has the audacity to imagine what art is, and what art could be in the future. In order to attain a full engagement with our humanity, we must involve ourselves with art that transcends our current knowledge of things.
Art that launches our souls into heightened states of awareness. Art that networks, bridges gaps, and connects dots in a mighty cosmos otherwise devoid. As Novalis said, “The seat of the soul is there where the inner and outer worlds meet.” One could convincingly argue that the seat of the soul resides within art.
1) Art keeps us thoughtful
“Everything is blooming most recklessly; if it were voices instead of colors, there would be an unbelievable shrieking into the heart of the night.” ~ Rainer Maria Rilke
Art has a way of keeping our minds on red alert like no other domain. It engages our minds mentally, psychologically, emotionally and spiritually. Whether through music, poetry, painting, or photography, all art re-familiarizes our minds with the unfamiliar. It causes us to think strategically, despite ourselves.
When we engage with art, whether by creating it or by witnessing it, we provoke our tendency toward comfort, security, and complacency and cause a controlled state of discomfort, insecurity, and anxiety that, at least temporarily, stretches our comfort zone.
Art is like a magician, where instead of pulling a rabbit out of a hat, it pulls our minds out of its preconditioned box. Poetry shreds the box and inverts it with rhythm and rhyme. Painting flattens the box into a canvas and watercolors it into further revealing itself. Music implodes the box and transcends it with treble and bass.
Photography captures the box and puts it into another box, giving it a taste of its own medicine. Indeed, art goads world-weariness into worldliness, where we have no choice but to be on the edge of our seats, thoughtful and full of hope, for the next artistic revelation.
2) Art is therapeutic and cathartic
“It is better to make mistakes than to do nothing.” ~ George Bernard Shaw
Almost any psychological hang-up, anxiety, neurosis, or stress can be absolved through the artistic process. Looking and listening to art will only get you so far, but creating it, that’s where the real medicine is.
Whether it’s losing yourself in flow states writing poetry, gelling musically with others playing jazz, or moving meditatively through dance or martial arts, art drowns our anxiety and stress in proactive creativity. Time speeds up. Time slows down. There’s no time to balk while in the throes of artistic metanoia. Or, there’s all the time in the world in order to put it all in perspective.
Art guides us. Art consoles us. Art helps us better understand our complex lives, and our even more complex selves. Art is psychic therapy used to exorcize the shadow content of the psyche, and introduce it to the conscious mind. The exorcism is the artistic act itself. It’s in the throes of creativity where the shadow content is revealed and then used as a medium.
The finished artwork is the conscious revelation. And lo, poison is transformed into medicine. It’s not magic, but it is magical. And the best part about it? We’re having fun. We’re happy. We’re caught up in the magical transformation from stagnating victim to flourishing cosmic hero, and it’s beyond wonderful.
3) Art helps us with loneliness
“Art and love are the same thing: It’s the process of seeing yourself in things that are not you.” ~ Chuck Klosterman
Art makes you feel. Good art makes you feel deeply. Creating good art makes you feel infinite. And when you feel infinite, loneliness gets put into proper perspective. You come to realize that you’re never truly alone. How could you be?
The interdependent dance simply won’t allow for it. And yet, there it is, loneliness, crippling us into independent agents unable to feel what another person is feeling. Unable to be anyone but ourselves. Locked in our own skin. Forced to see the world through the limitation of our own senses.
But art can help us even with this kind of deep loneliness. In fact, some of the best art was made out of the fodder of such loneliness. Art brings creative meaning into existence that could not have otherwise existed.
One must have been an independent agent, tapping into interdependence, in order to have created a piece of art that dwarfs the loneliness that compelled it.
Art takes the deep loneliness, the existential angst, the great suffering at the heart of being an individual in an interdependent cosmos, and magnifies it into a heightened state of creative detachment. It’s absolutely godlike. And yet terribly, painfully human.
As Alain de Botton said in Art as Therapy, “One of the unexpectedly important things that art can do for us is to teach us how to suffer more successfully.”
4) Art helps us appreciate both ordinary and extraordinary experiences
“For aren’t you and I gods? Let all of life be an unfettered howl. Release life’s rapture. Everything is blooming. Everything is flying. Everything is screaming. Laughing. Running.” ~ Vladimir Nabokov
Sometimes art seems to scream at us: “Stop letting routine dull your aliveness. Don’t allow the tyranny of habit to undermine your vivacity.” Sometimes we manage to listen, but most of the time we don’t.
Art helps us slow down time and be present. It has a way of bringing us into the here and now. Whether we’re viewing art or creating it, the freedom of the moment is absolute, and we’re able to appreciate the vitality of the ordinary while viewing the extraordinary. We come to the revelation that there are no ordinary moments.
Like Nabokov said, “everything is blooming.” Indeed, everything is caught in the ecstatic throes of being everything. It’s a veritable cosmic jouissance. And we’re the godlike creatures with animal hearts caught in absolute awe of the mysterious slow dance of it all.
But it’s within the flow of the creative act, in the throes of the artistic process, where the extraordinary becomes the superordinary, or even metaordinary. The anarchy inherent within the creative act liberates us from the tyranny of our habits, and gradually the Great Mystery coalesces with our burgeoning soul and we’re howling, laughing, flying, and completely unfettered.
5) Art rebalances The Force (Qi, Mana, Prana, Pneuma)
“Aren’t we talking about mercy and its dark twin? Isn’t that what is pummeling history in the side as I write this? Isn’t it the thorn and the taser? Isn’t it the chokehold and the gold arm of vengeance?
I say it from my mouth and when it spills forth it lands on the ground in a pool of light reflecting back at me the one true blasphemy: Love and love and love and love is crowding the street and needs only air and it lives, over there, in the distance, burning.” ~ Tina Chang, Fury
Art is numinous. Art is provident. Art is a counterintuitive, alchemically binding force. Especially while in the creative process. Art is an energy that binds the mind-body-spirit into soulcraft. With such soulcraft we become world-builders.
With Prana in one hand and Pneuma in the other, we become cosmic expanders, connecting the dots of this mythology with the dots of that mythology. With Mana in our heart and Qi in our soul, we creatively realign Cosmos with Psyche, and Nature with the human spirit.
It is through art that we existentially stabilize and spiritually equalize. It is through art where the past meets the future within the almighty present. It is through art that we’re born, live, die, and are reborn again. Art is the ultimate leveling mechanism, used since time immemorial for keeping our social and political animal-like natures in proper balance.
Art is vital for human happiness, the keystone that unlocks the heartstone of Eudaimonia and the cornerstone of a life well lived.