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When In Troubled Times, Turn to Art

Updated: Apr 27, 2020

In the recent weeks of quarantine I've been rediscovering art in a new light and it has been one of the biggest solaces in the wake of our uprooted lives. I've been consuming art in various forms quicker than I've been consuming snacks. Books, movies, music, dance.. Diving into the works of other creators, listening to them trying to explain their art, creating myself. To be honest, my own artistic expression varies from abstract dancing in the kitchen to doodling portraits of people I miss, but those activities feel vital to me right now. Art is a big word, it encompasses many creative sources and activities. However, certain uniting principles of art can inform us about life and those moments of creativity can guide us through the troubled times.

Doing for the act of doing

Creative process, especially the beginning of it, doesn't have to have a clear meaning. The setting of the meaning can discourage the creator. Let's say starting a drawing - if you set your meaning to 'I want this piece to hang in a gallery' or 'I hope I get at least a hundred likes' chances are your meaning is going to drag you down and if you get fifty likes you might start doubting the purpose behind creating something. The amazing thing about art - in a sense it's meaningless (whether you create that movie or not, the Earth will probably not stop spinning), but it's indispensable for humanity. Let's face it, being human is such a freakin' difficult thing and art is probably one of the only comforts of that condition.

The hard years of war - we turn to art. The financial crises - we turn to art. Confined and isolated at home - we turn to art. Tik Tok videos (some if it is pure gold), online concerts, dance classes, poetry readings.. we need art for the sake of art, because all the rest is too unpredictable and too unimaginable. In the wake of realising that our plans and our lifestyles can fall to pieces in a day and our sense of security is nothing but an illusion, we might as well take a pencil and start doodling.

Some people like it, some people don't

One of the cornerstones for any artist is finding it's own voice. There's time to learn, to get inspired, to copy other people's work. It's a wondrous chance to find a good teacher that can show us some directions, but at some point we will have to be our own teachers and our own students. We will have to leave the safe nest and we will start creating. There will probably be a lot of spoiled first (and second, and third) pancakes, until eventually it will get better. But even then, not everyone will like our pancakes, some will tell us straight into our face, some will talk behind our backs, some will be indifferent (because let's admit, there are so many pancakes out there). It's choosing the right critics that's important. Maybe it's only a very few people that we trust to call us out on our bullshit and that's enough, it's those people we have to keep in mind when creating, living or making pancakes (is it obvious that I'm hungry?).

There are good choices and bad choices, but most of the choices we face are in the space in between. There are stories that can teach us but they can also confuse us. There are advices that can be helpful but not for us. There are happy endings and failures, but there are no universal recipes. The one thing that we can apply in art as well as in life is figuring out our own recipe.

It's about improvising

Any creative process has it's challenges and the only way to go through it is to learn how to improvise. Improvisation is something created on the spot, using whatever can be found at a given moment. In theatre it can be one word that you get from the audience and you have to bounce off of it to create a story, in music - a familiar melody or someone else's solo that gives you a jump start. Sometimes it's not much, maybe it's just a word potato that as an actor you have to transform into a whole exciting story, but nevertheless, you take what you get and then comes the next step - you react. The saying goes: 'we don't get to choose what happens to us - but we always get to choose how we react to it', the essence of improvising is making that choice with whatever knowledge, experience and tools we have. Sometimes we improvise alone, sometimes with others and then we have to coordinate, to listen, to pay attention and then react appropriately. 

In my dance classes I always say that everyone can improvise from the first class they take. Just as it's not a prerequisite to have many colours to make a good painting, it's not important to know many steps to be able to make choices and improvise. We have music, maybe a few ideas and we react. Zooming out, life is essentially that - making choices and reacting with the knowledge and life experiences we have collected. And one way we can make our life easier is applying the mindset of an artist, looking at situations creatively, playing and creating with what we have at a given moment. Even if it's only potato.


* Illustration by Luka

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