Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time.
— Thomas Merton
The question of why art even matters has resurfaced many times in my mind over the past few years of studying drama. It’s a question every artist makes an effort to answer, at one point or another, and I’m sure many people who don’t identify as artists do too.
So why does art matter?
You may recall that I do what I do because I want to make a difference; I want to make myself matter, and I’ve been feeling like theatre doesn’t matter the same way that directly helping others does. I feel like being an actor is selfish — what difference do they make in the world? They’re not saving lives are nurturing the minds of the future.
I’m writing this after another audition for a theatre festival for new playwrights and emerging artists (again at my university) and I couldn’t agree with Thomas Merton more. As part of the group of artists that put on these shows I definitely lose myself while learning more about myself than I thought possible, but as a participant from the outside, just an audience member… I lose myself then, too.
The thing about theatre is it has a reputation of being snarky and elitist, which in many ways it is. But there is something about experiencing something live, about the energy exchange that happens between audience and performer. All of us lose ourselves together in the same room, and by the end of it, or during the intermission, we’ve all found ourselves in different places. We’ve explored our ideas about the world, or confirmed them, and we’ve all just shared something together. I once went to a show that made me cry, laugh, and feel frightened at various moments, not because of the plot — because of the overwhelming beauty or sense of awe it produced.
That was three years ago, and I really don’t think I’ll ever forget it.
Even material meant just to make us laugh, just to give us a fun entertaining night, affects us. Why?
Well, art help us see beauty in the world. It helps us recognize the human experience and it helps us be part of the world, pausing our crazy busy lives and really, truly, living for a moment. It helps us notice small things and lose ourselves in the experience that life is, whether it’s to catch the look on your face as you open that perfect gift, the gleam of a globule of water on a leaf, the feeling of falling in love, or the grief of loss.
Art reminds us of who we are and asks us to wonder about who we are — as an individual, group, or even as humanity as a whole. Among the scientific, practical, logical lives we all have, art helps us find a sense of ourselves and of humanity.
All very obscure and artistic of me to say, I know. (What can I say? I guess I’m an artist…)
I mean, I’m watching Jessica Jones, and after every episode I’m left thinking about why I like it or what I didn’t like, and why. It makes me think about how people work, about the possibilities that our world provides or doesn’t, compared to the world in the show.
Just think about it. What was the last piece of entertainment or art that you experienced? Why did you bother with it?
The next time you wonder why art even matters, ask yourself this: would science matter if our lives were devoid of experiencing beauty?
Sandra at what sandra thinks recently challenged me to do 3 Days 3 Quotes; this is my response for the second day.
My nominations will come tomorrow!