Art allows us to fly, nullifying human boundaries. It lets us explore being gods and devils, birds and trees, murderers and saints. It opens us to possibilities: lofty, as in Michalegelo’s depiction of God touching man, or terrifying, as in Picasso’s Guernica and the hell of war. We may connect with our joy or sadness when listening to Joshua Bell’s violin or squirm when recognizing a cruel inner demon while watching A Clockwork Orange. Oscar Wilde said, “It is art and art only, that reveals us to ourselves.”
In its guardian role, art helps us avoid plunging into a pit of horror. We can imagine and symbolically act on inner urges without creating havoc for ourselves or others. Stephen King comes to mind as a man who has learned to safely and profitably celebrate yet contain his inner demons.
Experiencing the art of others can certainly be liberating, but we transcend our human boundaries to a fuller extent when we allow our inner artist to blossom, when we become the creator. I was bound up with self-loathing as a younger man. Miserable and frozen in body and spirit, I was convinced I didn’t have a creative bone in my body. The first major crack in that self-entombment came in my junior year of collage, the period of my life when I was at my lowest, a lost soul indeed. Possibly as a divine stroke of intervention, my B.A. degree required me to take a semester of fine arts, including a section on modern dance. To my surprise and horror, this was a participatory class. I had to create and dance as a part of a group, as a part of a couple, and, most frighteningly, all alone. I ended up enjoying that course and feeling a strange new sensation nudge at my soul: joy. Many years later, after working long and hard to throw off my chains, I rediscovered that joyful sensation when I began taking dance lessons and then teaching dance. I am an artist.
“The artist is not a special kind of man, but every man is a special kind of artist.”- A.K. Coomaraswamy