Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Art is Community

Writing is a solitary pursuit. Long hours holed up with ideas and a blank screen, sympathizing with God’s ex nihlo brand of creation. The loneliness is deceiving. In the midst of it, the writer almost believes she is, after all, alone. That the ideas she spins are hers alone and she bends low over each one bidding it grow. Almost. But anyone who engages in art in any way knows there is no aloneness inside this place. That art is, in fact, an act of community.

A writer tells a story, and if she does it well, it will be the story of her aching place (keeping in mind that the aching place isn’t always about darkest pain, but also about the grandest ache of all; selfless love). The story goes ‘out there’, into the eyes of readers, into their minds, under their skin. And the reader discovers she too has an aching place though she’d never been able to express it before. She believed her aching place was alone, hidden, private. But art exposes that lie. We are not alone with our feelings, we share them. They mingle together in the air we pull into our lungs.

A Scream Goes Through the House, Arnold Weinstein says it this way:

“[. . .] art [. . .} offers us a shocking new picture of human arrangements, a picture that is insistently collective, relational, and extended. In art we can find and tap into a reservoir of feeling, and this encounter not only breaks open our solitude but also makes audible and visual to us the emotional lines of force that bathe individual life, separate us, yet connect us to one another.”

The power of art via story (the novel, or otherwise) is something to be treated with extraordinary care. There is an implicit obligation in the creation of art, not just to the art itself, but to the culture we live in and to the people of that culture. We cannot be content with a world filled with mere entertainment (I’m not against entertainment), when we can be a part of a world filled with meaning and connection (which offers a whole new level to what it means to be entertained). Neil Postman was a media critic who wrote extensively about media of all kinds: “When cultural life is redefined as a perpetual round of entertainments, when a people become an audience, then a nation finds itself at risk.” This quote was in reference to TV in particular, but there’s a grain of truth for writers as well.

If art is the true connector of people, as Weinstein argues, then Postman’s observation rings clear; we have the opportunity to connect with each other on a deeply human basis, far beyond the water cooler giggles over the base behavior of the newest reality TV star (I’m not against water cooler giggles), or the worn out story of a woman who can only find wholeness if loved by a man (I am not against being loved by a man). Rather, the solitary writer can reach into the world, sharing her secret aching place, watching as it twines together with the fabric of other people’s souls and stretches out beyond the limits of what time can show her. She can write and share herself, and receive to herself the art (aching place) of others in order, as James Joyce says in Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
, “That I may learn in my own life . . . What the heart is and what it feels.”

What thoughts do you have on art as community? What is the obligation of the artist/writer to the culture she/he partakes in? How have encounters with art given voice to your own aching place?


Anonymous said...

Is there any writer who writes without the intention of making an impact on their sphere of influence, however wide that circle may be? Who does not feel some responsibility for the repercussions of what they write? (even whether their intent is good or bad impact).

And isn't writing to entertain intentional and making an impact--connecting with some reader somewhere?

To me, no words are ever wasted--they will reach deep and connect with someone, somewhere. It may be 1-2 people, or it may be thousands, but it will connect.

BK Jackson

Wendy Paine Miller said...

Too many thoughts on this one.

"A writer tells a story, and if she does it well, it will be the story of her aching place." Beautiful!

And the obligation is to write into the depths. We must not sugarcoat or gloss over what feels uncomfortable. Sometimes it's heading straight into the discomfort that creates the strongest connections.

~ Wendy

Anonymous said...

I write short stories for my fiction blog. Occasionally, I'll meet someone who has read one of my stories. They comment on one of the characters or situations. Inevitably it makes me blush. Not so much because I'm humble (I'm thrilled that someone is reading what I've written). It's more because they have looked into a piece of my soul. They don't realize that now they know something very intimate about me.

Does that make sense at all?

It's a strangely wonderful thing about writing - sharing from my love, pain, joy, being with others.

Marcia said...

Bonnie and all,

I think art for God's sake, as an act of worship to Him, is surely the highest form of art. It could express itself alone in the depths of a dungeon prison or at the crossroads of the market place. Perhaps only eternity will reveal the greatest works of art, which on earth were painted or sung or written in secret.

Yet having said that, Christ Himself was both the greatest artist who ever lived and the greatest missionary who walked this planet. He placed great value on the expression of truth and beauty, especially in his fictional stories (parables). He went to the greatest lengths to reveal truth to others.

As I seek to emulate him by reaching out to others and to my community, I've come to discover more clearly my own aching place.

For instance, this past week when I confessed to a friend that I was often motivated by guilt, she expressed the hope I could get past the guilt and operate more on the level of joy.

Her words had a freeing effect on me. Released, I delved with new vigor into the guilt of my heroine, my sister/struggler.

Hence, in community we grow and in community we minister. We are all connected, and one of the most powerful ways to connect is through art.

Anonymous said...

What great comments to Bonnie's beautiful post.

BK, you're right. Words are never wasted. Whether we speak them, writer them, read them, they will connect with someone. As writers we need to purpose to connect with our readers on a level that isn't superficial. At least for me. I feel I've gotten to a place in life where I don't have time for the superficial. I try to aim for much a deeper connection.

Wendy, I love how you put it: "Sometimes it's heading straight into the discomfort that creates the strongest connections." Yes! Absolutely!

Susie, you verbalized exactly how I feel too, that readers of my novels have looked into a piece of my soul.

Marcia, you nailed it. The bottom line is that art connects us like little else.

Megan Sayer said...

Wow, there's so much in this, I've been thinking about it all day. I've been feeling of late an obligation to uphold my culture and reflect it back honestly and lovingly in my writing - not my church culture or even my Christian culture, but to reflect back Australia in a society that seems saturated with American influences. And more than that - to reflect Tasmania (there seem to be too few Tasmanian stories). Funnily enough too, the last few short stories I've written have all been set in a fictionalised version of my old home-town, the place I was desperate to get away from. I've got a real heart for the place now. I love exploring the people in my memory, and thinking about what made them tick, what their hopes and dreams and secret hurts were.
That thought feels kind of unfinished, but there you go. There's just so much to chew on here. Thanks for the munch.

Kathleen Popa said...

Megan, there are definitely too few Tasmanian stories. I'm smiling as I say that, because Tasmania sounds so exotic and mysterious to me - I was surprised to learn people lived there! But the truth is that we all live fabulously unique lives, only we don't notice because they are our lives, and to us they seem mundane. Sometimes it takes time and distance to really see a place, like your hometown, or a life. But I think if we tap into the truest things about us, and the things that make us unique, then we will touch both the universal and the fascinating in our work.

Latayne C Scott said...

Bonnie, this was the kind of post I couldn't respond to, except to wallow around in it in hopes that it would rub off on me. :)

Megan Sayer said...

Kathleen that's so true. I read a lot of American books, and the ones that successfully evoke place and culture for me are the ones the author has written about the places of their childhood, or places they haven't been for years - they're able to subtly capture that time and distance and express things that can't be done (in my opinion) in writing about places that are day-to-day familiar.

The following link (sorry I can't make it short) is a book you may be interested in - my favourite Tasmanian book ever - historical fiction. Brilliantly written. Love interest's name is Kathleen!
Seriously though, the towns and streets and little outposts mentioned in it are places that I now live and work and shop. It's even got my old home-town church in it! If you ever want a bit of Tasmanian history, read this.

Bonnie Grove said...

Hey everyone, sorry I'm late replying. I was away for a few days splashing at a water park in Edmonton with the family. We had a great time!

BK: It's so good to spend time contemplating the reach stories/art has. And good to contemplate our individual roles as they merge into the community of all. Thanks for your thoughts.

Wendy: I agree about glossing over what feels uncomfortable. It's likely that the very thing we would choose to gloss over is the thing we need to spend the most time examining. For me, it isn't the so called dark stuff I shy away from, it's the embarrassing stuff that I want to gloss over. :)

Susie: it is a strange and wonderful thing. And what it helps to know is when a reader has connected with you to such a level that they leave a comment on your blog--the secret knowledge they have of you, is also knowledge you have of them. Community. Art. Art is community. :)

Bonnie Grove said...

Marcia: That's a great example of how community is meant to be a freeing, joyful experience of the human condition--and art leads the way. It knits together in ways no other thing can (or is supposed to).

I love that we can explore art as community over art as individualistic. Thanks for adding your good thoughts, Marcia.

Sharon: Thank you for your insightful responses. I love to meditate on your perspective. It teaches me so much.

Megan, I agree with Katy there are far too few Tasmanian novels. You will be a front runner, a maker of ways. Go girl!!!

Latayne: Mwah. Katy: Mwah to you too. :)