What is theatre? What is art? Why do we go see movies or watch TV? Listen to opera or classical music? Take in an art installation or a ballet performance?
Surely, it’s to have our own experiences reflected back to us. To realize we’re not alone in how we feel, love and think. Fulfilling some primal need of the shared, collective, tribal connection that is a part of the collective consciousness of being alive. And being human.
But also it’s something more. It’s an attempt to find meaning in something that inherently is meaningless. (Not as in hopeless; simply the meaning of life as ascribed by each person according to their own subjective experience.) So through art we attempt to understand something that is at one level indefinable and mysterious.
The mystery of being here. The mystery of being alive. Some scientists talk about the God gene ”“ that the concept of an Infinite Supreme Being is simply part of our DNA because our ancestors thousands of years ago created ritualistic acts and ceremonies to worship nature, the stars and the sun and moon.
So we have a biological need to create meaning. Out of events, happenings, experiences, tragedies, victories. Or perhaps it’s simply a control to make us feel better when something as infinite as the universe is reduced to finite terms and explanations. Labels and definitions make us feel safe.
We try to explain and understand everything. From the people we meet (or don’t meet), fall in love with, divorce, procreate with, save, hate, feel drawn to, are repelled by ”“ to the people who inspire us or make us feel safe. The people who scare us or make us feel insecure.
So what’s it for?
Musician Brian Eno says, “Art is everything that you don’t have to do.” It’s not a survival necessity. We have to eat. We have to clothe ourselves. We have to move. But we embellish these necessities with stylistic expressions. So we create extravagant soufflÃ© dishes (Top Chef) or cut holes in our jeans (Project Runway!) or leap in the air and pirouette (Dancing with the Stars!).
Human beings take the necessities of life and turn them into art. And therein, those acts simultaneously become acts of survival. For without these flashes of the Divine or love or heart or spirit or inspiration ”“ or whatever we want to call it ”“ we would remain at the level of animals.
Eno goes on to talk about how children learn through play and adults play through art. We can imagine worlds in ways animals can’t, so children ”“ through their art and creating and playing ”“ move from being primitive to evolved. It is our imagination in how we can create that elevates us as humans.
But I often wonder if that’s solely left in the devices of art ”“ some heightened reflection or representation of life ”“ or whether the actual art is in how we simply experience life.
The goal is to bring back the art of living into our very existence itself. It’s great to go see plays. It’s wonderful to be awed by Cirque Du Soleil. But you don’t have to go see something or consume something to have art in your life. How you view the world and create in it is an expression of art.
I was in NY last week and witnessed a homeless person (who I thought was simultaneously strung out on bath salts!) pick up a feather he discovered spontaneously on the sidewalk. In that moment, symbolically that feather meant something to him. Is it because he’s connected to the mythological significance of what a feather represents? Did his mom once give him a feather? Does he have a connection to nature or birds or flying? Was he once someone who worked with birds in a zoo or made art with feathers before he became homeless?
It didn’t matter. In that moment, a depraved experience turned into the Divine. Regardless of his state of being, he was conscious enough in that moment to imbue a moment with truth and beauty.
That is art.
That’s who we are. All the time.
So stop waiting for someone to acknowledge your “art” by commodifying it.
Just be it more.