I wrote this a while back on facebook, but I feel that it is important enough to post again, and truly relevant both to my life, and to everyone. Enjoy.
We NEED the Arts
Ok, so the title sounds a little obvious. And it’s something I’ve known intellectually for forever. But recently, I’ve had a chance to experience and understand this statement in a way that has given it new meaning for me. Music has always held a prominent place in my life: singing in the children’s choir at church from before I could even read, starting piano lessons when I was in kindergarten, band and choir in middle school/high school, undergrad ensembles, junior and senior piano recitals, right up to teaching music full time for almost 7 years. That’s a lot of music. I’ve always understood the need for people to have an artistic outlet in their lives, but honestly, sometimes music just felt more like a chore to me than something I could do for fun. Like after I gave my senior recital, I swore I’d never touch a piano again. And I didn’t for almost 5 years. And I didn’t really miss it. Now that I teach music, I’m starting to feel the same way about other facets of music too. Like I spend most of my day singing. I don’t want to sing in my free time.
Starting about sometime last year, I started playing piano again. Not in the traditional sense of learning a classical piece for a performance, but just learning to play some of my favorite tunes by ear, or just sitting down to play/improvise/make up whatever came out. I found it was a really great release for me. After a really bad day, I could play it out and feel better. After a stressful day, it would calm me down. And during the difficult decision I was dealing with (whether to leave my last position or not) I can honestly say I couldn’t have gotten through it without being able to play. I NEEDED that release so I could deal with the things going on in my life. I didn’t do it for other people, to perform for them, to ever share it with anyone. I did it for ME. Because I need that outlet, and it works for me.
In my new position this year, there is no piano at either of the schools I travel to. I don’t have one at home. I should be an emotional wreck right? Well I sort of am, but for other reasons I’m not getting into here. But anyway, what struck me was how my emotional outlets and my artistic sense rose to the occasion. We need the arts so deeply in our lives that even when we don’t know how, don’t have the training, or have never done it before, we still have the drive to create, to express that for which words just can’t communicate, and it will force its way out any way it can, even if it’s through a way we’re not practiced in.
Here’s a specific example of what I’m talking about. One day, I was reading in the park, and I was suddenly overcome with the driving desire to draw. I don’t even know where it came from or why. I had a short mental conversation with myself. “But Karyn, you can’t draw. You haven’t drawn anything since grade school.” “But I don’t care, I just HAVE to. I’ll figure it out.” “But it won’t be very good, and you don’t draw, remember?” “Well, then I won’t show anyone, but I gotta draw this.” So it was settled. But I couldn’t exactly draw in the margins of my library book (I imagine libraries frown on that sort of thing), So I scrounged in my bag for something else, and I drew a lovely scene of the Public Garden. I’ve never really drawn anything in my life, but it came out ok and I’m actually proud of it. And I liked it so much, I quilted it. I still don’t know exactly where that came from, but I’m convinced now that it rose from not being able to play anymore. And it expanded my emotional outlets in all directions. I have a sketchbook. I paint. I make art quilts. I read a lot. I write. I drum. I dance. I don’t do these things because I want to perform for other people, because I want to ever be judged on them, or because I want to make a little extra money (though I am getting ready to start sending my children’s book manuscript out to some agents, maybe). I do them for me, and I get enjoyment out of doing these things just for the sake of doing them.
As I look around at all the unhappy people I commute with on the bus/train every day, I think about how the arts are not encouraged for their role as emotional outlets, not generally used in that way, and people are generally afraid to try for fear of doing it “wrong,” being judged, feeling like it’s not a good use of their time, or other reasons, I don’t know. But we need to do these things. Or at least I do. People love to advocate for needing the arts in schools, and that’s important too, but I think it goes beyond that. Way beyond that. It’s not something we grow out of when we leave school or become adults.
Just as a side note, here are pictures of the sketch and quilt I made. The quilt came out about 10 x 12 inches.
The arts are a primal force of nature in us, and try as we might to not acknowledge it, I firmly believe that art will force its way out in some form or another. What’s YOUR art?