Currently I’m reading this book: At the Existentialist Cafe, by Sarah Bakewell.
I am struggling to put this book down. It has become my bible of the moment. I first came across it when it was in hardback. I saw it in Waterstones. I picked it up. I put it down. I picked it up again. I put it down again. I left the shop. Then I encountered a reference to it on Twitter last week. Someone I follow on Twitter was about to read it. I saw that as a sign. So I decided to buy it. I’m so pleased I did. I believe in signs. It came at the right time for me to read it.
Today, a piece of text I read in this book included this question: can art save us from the chaos of life?
This is a really good question, which I have been pondering ever since I read it. So I ask here: can art save us from the chaos of life? Art in this sense includes drama, film, fine art, performance, literature and poetry. Basically, ‘art’ here is anything creatively enjoyed or creatively persuaded.
Life is chaotic. That’s a truism. We all feel the emotional highs and lows of just living. Life can be exhausting. But, the question is, can turning to art, help us get through those highs and lows? The ‘us’ here is you, me, the man next door, John Snow, the postman and the man I walked past earlier today. To me, the answer is obvious.
There is another dimension to this question: can art save us from the chaos of life? This time, I mean the chaos of the macro: politics, economics and society. Can art save us from that chaos as well? ‘Us’ here being the wider definition of the term: the community ‘us’ which includes me, the man next door, John Snow, the postman and the man I walked past earlier today. Art has got this particular ‘us’ through many a prickly situation before, world wars, dictatorships, civil wars, famine, earthquakes and the like. So surely the answer is again a resounding ‘yes’.
In 1966, Saul Bellow talked about the role of art in the midst of chaos: ‘Art has something to do with the achievement of stillness in the midst of chaos…Art has something to do with an arrest of attention in the midst of distraction.’
Oscar Wilde, was also of this persuasion: ‘The temperament to which art appeals…is the temperament of receptivity. That is all.’
For me, when I am feeling the chaos of my life taking over, I feel compelled to read, paint or draw. Reading helps the least, painting the most. However, for me, the relief is deep yet it is fleeting. When I stop, the chaos returns. Sadly, I can’t just paint. I have to earn a living. Art is my drug of choice but it stays in my bloodstream just but a moment.
As for the wider chaos of life, I firmly believe that art will save us every time, whatever is thrown at ‘us’. The anxieties and paranoias which every generation views as unique to its era are anything but. However, there are ebbs and flows. Whenever the political system gets out of hand, when it turns uncanny and when the balance is out, artists draw, paint and write. They do so in the face of opposition. They do so with a greater awareness of what they are fighting against and in greater quantity. They can’t help themselves. This art, I think, stays in the bloodstream for longer than the fleeting moment. It sticks.
This is a good thing.
Keep creating, people. I could not conduct my life without art, I am sure of that. So even in the face of an outer adversity, as well as my own inner turmoil, I will keep going.