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making art in a crisis

A coaching client asked herself this week if she should really be painting. After all, we’re in the middle of many crises: a global pandemic, a terrifying war, and climate collapse, just to name a few. Isn’t art right now excessive, frivolous, indulgent, and selfish? Shouldn’t my time be used to really, tangibly help more people? Really great questions, and ones that many artists grapple with. It boils down to: “Does my art actually matter?”

In a culture ravaged by capitalism and productivity, we’ve lost so much of what it really means to be human, to be alive. We’ve become more like machines, crossing tasks off our list, attending to the needs all around us and barely having a moment to just be. To reflect. To wonder. To notice deeply and somatically what it is really like to be alive in this body, on this planet, right now.

Art-making allows us to process and experience what it means to be human. It allows us to express our hurts, our visions, our emotions. And when others connect with our art, they connect more with themselves too. Art can heal the artist and the viewer. We need art to help us understand all the craziness we are living. How do we make sense of something nonsensical? How do we find wholeness in a fragmented world? Art makes connections, creates a vision to help us see with fresh eyes. It reinvigorates our passion, our sense of curiosity and our commitment to life, whether it expresses beauty and light or tragedy and darkness. We reclaim pieces of ourselves we’d lost. And some things can be best expressed and received non-linearly, like poetry, dance or visual art.

Art-making also tethers us to what really matters. It can be a lifeline when everything is falling apart, keeping us close to our soul so we can still hear it’s quiet voice in the storm of our lives. It cuts through the clutter and reconnects us to our deepest intentions. And when we do that for ourselves, when we ignite our own hearts, it spreads like wildfire. As Howard Thurman wrote over 40 years ago,

“Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and go do that, because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

So yes, what if making art and “helping” weren’t mutually exclusive? What if making art filled us with clarity, purpose and passion? And what if that rubbed off on those around us? And what if the next action we took came from the inspiration we cultivated? Sounds to me like art-making can directly and indirectly have a powerful impact on the world around us.

I’ll leave you with one more thought experiment: What if everyone around the world had the opportunity (and took it) to deeply connect with and channel their soul’s messages for just 20 minutes every day? How could each individual change? How could the world shift? I’d certainly like to find out. So this week, as you’re trying to process the overwhelming news of the day, consider balancing that with some time to connect with and create from deep within yourself. I promise, the world will thank you.

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