There is no art for art’s sake.
I’m taking a little trip into my personal archives today. This afternoon we’re hosting a (very) informal open house to celebrate being in our new home, and – as you might guess – I’m not entirely ready for the event. There is still shopping to be done, floors to be vacuumed, pictures to be hung, and a buffet of harvest appetizers to cobble together. Though I would like to make a cup of tea with honey and settle in for my usual three-hour write, that just isn’t in the cards today.
So, instead, I will share with you a column I wrote for my local paper earlier this year. The piece was inspired by the outpouring of sadness that rippled across my digital landscape after Maya Angelou’s passing. The topic seemed to me a fitting one as I prepare to thank friends and family for their support during my long house hunt, to enjoy the small pleasures of the autumn season together, and to share a few hours of time away from the usual hustle and bustle of our lives. Today isn’t really about celebrating the acquisition of a house. It’s about celebrating the feeling of belonging, of being part of a community. It’s about feeling welcomed and supported, cared for and loved.
I hope you feel that today, and I hope you realize the potential of your art to give that gift to others.
··• )o( •··
Art is Hard
(Originally published in the Ipswich Chronicle, May 2014)
Last week at this time, my social media networks were overrun with posts mourning the passing of writer and activist, Maya Angelou. From small town nobodies to world leaders, people everywhere lamented the loss of Angelou as both an artist and a human being.
All across the digital and print landscape, I read stories of how Angelou had instilled courage in people’s hearts, influenced their decisions, and inspired their creativity. I was touched by the depth of emotion in these shared memories, even though – having never read any of Angelou’s poems or memoirs – I had little context for the outpouring of love and respect. This was a woman who, by sharing her life and ideas through her art, had clearly made a very real difference in the lives of many people.
Though I was unfamiliar with her work (an unaccountable and slightly embarrassing gap in my literary education), I had come across many of Angelou’s famous quotes. My favorite, by far, is her observation on the nature of human interaction, “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
As a writer, I can’t help but consider this quote from the perspective of an artist. No matter the medium or the message, all artists want to make people feel something – joy, sorrow, hope, wonder. Singers, dancers, painters, writers – they all practice their craft in order to forge a connection – with the self, the world, another human being.
I am grateful to live in a community that is home to so many artists. Making art is hard. It requires patience, practice, and sacrifice. It requires vulnerability and courage. Whether the artist’s palette holds paint or words or musical notes, each creation is an extension of the self. In the attempt to create feeling in others, the artist must expose his or her own feelings. It can be scary.
I’m so glad that, despite that risk, many people in our community choose to share their photographs, music, poetry, sculptures, and dramatic performances. And, we’re equally fortunate that our community supports these artists, ensuring that their work has a chance to open our hearts and minds.
But, Angelou’s quote isn’t necessarily about art. Though creative expression in all its forms gives us a short cut to our emotions, our everyday words and actions also have the power to make others feel something. With the smallest effort, we can make someone feel encouraged or defeated, proud or ashamed, joyful or melancholy. In our daily rounds, we have an almost infinite number of opportunities to shape the emotions of the people around us – for better or for worse.
Friends who had the chance to hear her speak or meet her tell me that Angelou was a powerful but warm presence, a person who evoked a sense of monumental strength combined with gentle empathy. I do not doubt that Maya Angelou was a wise and compassionate person who shared her gifts generously with people all over the world. There is no question that the tribute she has received during her lifetime and in recent days is warranted. But, I do not think that any of us should let the grand scope of her influence diminish our own gifts.
Though I do not know her well, I imagine that would be the last thing Angelou would want.
After all, a person does not need to be admired by world leaders or loved by Oprah in order to make a difference in the world. Each of us can make a difference today by simply smiling at a stranger, supporting a friend, or telling someone we’re sorry. Each of us has the capacity to make someone feel loved or inspired or simply understood. That is a gift each of us can give and it’s a gift that will never be forgotten.
What I’m Reading:
Earlier this week, I finished listening to the audio book version of a novel I’ve been meaning to read for a long while – The Elegance of the Hedgehog by the apparently reclusive French author, Muriel Barbery. Over the course of the last year or so, I had probably picked this book up (and put it down) almost a dozen times. Something about it intrigued me, but never enough to make me pull the trigger and make the purchase. Having finally read it, I can say that I am glad I finally decided to take the plunge.
I do not want to say too much about the book for fear of ruining the experience for those who have not read it. I can say that the book is narrated by two protagonists: Renée, the concierge of an upscale apartment building in Paris, and twelve year-old genius Paloma, daughter of one of the building’s privileged residents. Both Renée and Paloma hide their true natures and talents from the rest of the world, each for her own reasons.
The story is told via an series of first person, “confessional” narratives that alternate between Renée and Paloma. The two characters are beautifully portrayed in the audio version of the novel by Barbara Rosenblat and Cassandra Morris. The language is educated and sophisticated without being the least bit staid or stuffy. The observations and opinions put forth by each of the protagonists are sharp, witty, and also full of a kind of longing. I laughed out loud several times. I was also brought to tears.
As a writer, I was particularly drawn in by Renée’s musings on the purpose of art. In chapter five, she asks,
“What is the purpose of Art? To give us the brief, dazzling illusion of the camellia, carving from time an emotional aperture that cannot be reduced to animal logic. How is Art born? It is begotten in the mind’s ability to sculpt the sensorial domain. What does Art do for us? It gives shape to our emotions, makes them visible and, in doing so, places a seal of eternity upon them, a seal representing all those works that, by means of a particular form, have incarnated the universal nature of human emotions.”
So lovely. So provocative. So true.
And let’s not forget the blogs. Here are a few of my favorite writerly posts from this week:
- Steven Pinker: ‘Many of the alleged rules of writing are actually superstitions’
- The 7 Basic Plots of Stories — Do You Have a Favorite? by @gretchenrubin
- Five ways to calm down and not be overwhelmed by social media change by @markwschaefer
- How Authors Can Find Their Ideal Reading Audience by @angelaackerman via @JaneFriedman
- The Sunday Dispatches: Does anyone remember laughter? by @pjrvs
Finally, a quote for the week:
I wish you could all be here today at my little open house, but since you can’t, I send virtual camaraderies and best wishes for a creative and fulfilling week.
Jamie Lee Wallace Hi. I’m Jamie. I am a content marketer and branding consultant, columnist, sometime feature writer, prolific blogger, and aspiring fiction writer. I’m a mom, a student of equestrian and aerial arts (not at the same time), and a nature lover. I believe in small kindnesses, daily chocolate, and happy endings. Introduce yourself on Facebook, twitter, Instagram, or Pinterest. I don’t bite … usually.