Thursday, October 08, 2015

What moves us makes us human

I wept when I saw the Northern Lights with my own eyes

I love the blog 'Brainpickings'. Maria Popova does an incredible job of curating from the wider world articles about life, art, passion, science, and technology as they relate to the human condition. Today I came across an offering on the blog from 2013 that encapsulated for me both the importance of art (in the large "A" sense: visual art, music, dance, writing, etc) to being alive and the false dichotomy society makes between 'high' and 'low' culture.

Popova talks about and quotes from Greil Marcus's commencement address for the class of 2013 at New York's School for Visual Art.

What really rang true for me was this quote:

"That’s what art does, that’s what it’s for — to show you that what you think can be erased, cancelled, turned on its head by something you weren’t prepared for — by a work, by a play, a song, a scene in a movie, a painting, a collage, a cartoon, an advertisement — something that has the power that reaches you far more strongly than it reaches the person standing next to you, or even anyone else on Earth — art that produces a revelation that you might not be able to explain or pass on to anyone else, a revolution that you desperately try to share in your own words, in your own work." - Greil Marcus

Art is ultimately personal and transformative. And no outside arbiter can determine what will reach inside and turn your heart, mind, and soul upside down. It can be an image, a line of poetry, a snippet of a song, a phrase of dialogue, a scene from a movie - and it can utterly disrupt your life in an instant while being utterly unremarkable to a companion, critic, or stranger.

Which doesn't matter. Because it is that reaction - that capacity to be profoundly moved - which makes us human and each of us will be moved by vastly different influences. No one - NO ONE - gets to determine what is profound to us.

As art becomes more and more accessible to the average person, there seems to be a corresponding increase and ease of the role of the arbiter. Not only can anyone be a creator, but anyone can be a gatekeeper and a critic. And more and more, that criticism seems to be made of mockery.

It's as if we (as a culture) would rather define ourselves by what we disdain that by what we find moving. And so, so many of us find ourselves in a position where we must apologize for what we love.

As a creator, I hear that terrible apology in my own voice more often than I wish. I'll be out in the world and talk will turn to vocation and avocation. I will mention that I write novels. The next question is typically "What do you write?" And I inwardly cringe, ready to minimize and apologize when I answer: Science Fiction and Fantasy.

I love what I love.

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.

--From Wild Geese, by Mary Oliver

I cannot begin to express how much these lines from Oliver's poem mean to me. I re-read it again and again, finding solace and joy in it each time. There are songs - pop songs - that will make me well up even on hearing them for the hundredth time. There is a line from a fantasy novel - The RiddleMaster Trilogy by Patricia McKillip that sends chills down my spine, even just thinking about it. ("They were promised a man of peace.") The final soliloquy from the Doctor Who episode "Family of Blood" reduces me to a ball of emotions.

I don't need to apologize for any of that.

The fact that I am moved, is enough. And if something I create, in turn, moves someone else, then that is enough, too.

Because to be human is to be affected, to be changed, to be moved by what we experience.


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