I think a lot about what the future holds for us. Like you, I am concerned (to say the least) for the ever changing climate. I worry about the divisive and tense politics of our times. Wealth disparity, economic catastrophes, and the kind of indentured servitude many of us find ourselves in: the list goes on.
I sometimes imagine these post apocalyptic futures where the trappings of my own life are stripped away and, like so many others, we scrape the earth for sustenance, banding together in our little tribes, trying to fight our way through an inhospitable landscape. It’s unlikely to come to that in my lifetime although that isn’t to say it’s not possible.
None the less, I ponder where the place of art is in that sort of future.
Art-making is a very unique part of the human experience. It could be the decorative arts – the swirl on the end of a fork, the pattern of a pillow case. There’s our furnishings and our clothing. There’s the presentation of a meal. There’s the stuff we hang on our wall. There are the stories we tell each other and gather around.
Surely within the making of any of these things, there’s a meditative grace and repose that is required to conjure up this beauty. Makers of any sort often report greater sensations of peace and lower levels of anxiety both in the midst of that making and after. There is at times a sense a sense of satisfaction – bringing together disparate threads of our chosen raw materials and creating something that shines. Yet there’s always more to make, more to explore, more to get right next time.
Each maker, in their creative process, carves for themselves a path towards absolution, using their craft to carve away at themselves, to shape and reshape themselves anew.
But what of it when it is done? And what place does it have in a world where our concerns are so global, so visceral, so very real, pondering the direction we humans are heading – trying with every step to keep ourselves all from going off a cliff, even if at times, our demise seems maybe what’s best for every other living thing on the planet?
Someone once said to me that art, as an expression of the human spirit, is like a star by which to navigate one’s ship in the world. When the sky is filled with stars, it is easier to find guidance. But sometimes just one point is enough to give us hope. As we toil away at our work, building a coop for the chickens, scratching at the earth for our tomatoes, punching numbers into a machine, trying to eke out an existence in our little corner of this planet, art can be a mirror that expresses parts of ourselves that these actions of physical survival can’t.
Art is part of a vast web of storytelling – a narrative that began long ago – that humans have been at since the first spoken word. Since the first humans said ‘what is this.’ or ‘why is this.’ Stories were created to describe to ourselves the how and why and who we are. As we have grown as a species, developing our modes of expression, our brains outstripping our senses, building machinery that allows us to soar far beyond the boundaries of those senses, we have created new stories and understandings.
Our arts – our music and poetry, our stories and paintings – have evolved along with that exploration because it’s not just WHAT the things are but our relationship to them. How do these things, these ideas, these realms we explore – from the microcosmic to the macrocosmic – help us to become healthier, more loving, more compassionate people capable of making wiser decisions for ourselves and the world around us?
Granted, our cultures the world over are filled with sociopaths bent on hoarding as much as they can for themselves, stepping on millions as they do so, sacrificing futures we’ve only dreamt about in pursuit of… I don’t know… Wealth? Power? Money and prestige? Whatever those things mean. And there’s no getting through to such people. For every peaceful park you look out on in the center of some lovely town that seems full of life and vitality where children might play and people seem to be doing ok, there’s ten more craving to look like that and ten more further along the line that are rubble and ten more below that which will never come to be. And so on.
This swirling storm of humans careening into the future, each stratified layer, from those with the most to those with the least…
So I go back to the ideas of what the future may hold and I know that somehow, in some way, I’ll always make art and humans as a whole will always strive, in whatever way, to create beauty. When there are no more sketchbooks and no more pens, we can find bark and burn wood and draw with charcoal. We can make totems in the woods guarding our homes that echo the landscape.
It is the makers of the world who strive ever towards beauty and elegance crafting that which adds not just ease to our lives but joy – for art has the capability of triggering joy in others – and those people will continue to craft worlds around themselves that reflect not just their needs or their wants, but their dreams as well.
If we stop dreaming then we’ll never create a better world for the future. Art making is to bring that dream into reality. What kind of dream do you want to create?