I’ve never doubted the effect art can have upon the world, or to each of us individually, especially myself. Whether it’s a book that gets me through a gray, gloomy day, or a piece of music that channels my anxieties, art – on more than a few occasions – has gotten me through.
I was always a little different; I never quite fit in. Some of it was by my own choice, but mostly it was by the choice of others. No one really wanted to hang out with the weird kid. It got to a point where I would go out of my way to be “weird.” If that’s how the world was going to see me, then so be it!
Well, one can only pretend for so long – pretend not to care what others think. It doesn’t take long before you start to believe it, and the weirdness turns to depression and self-loathing. It was about that time that I found…no, not Jesus. I found Alice. As in, Alice Cooper. And then Black Sabbath. But mostly, it was Alice.
Alice Cooper’s music (of the 1970’s; not the newer stuff) channeled my dark thoughts, tapped my melancholia, made my weirdness feel not so weird. With tongue-in-cheek humor, his music expressed themes of alienation, lost identity, and death before I was able to express it for myself through writing. And that made all the difference. So the point of this post then is: to anyone trying to navigate rocky emotional terrain, or make sense of thoughts they don’t understand, try art. Absorb, participate. Write poetry, paint, do scrap booking, cross stitch, play music, whatever; channel artistically. I think you get what I’m saying. It doesn’t matter whether or not it’s any good, just do something, anything.
Let me illustrate another way and introduce you to Jesse Krimes.
Jesse spent nearly 6 years in a Federal prison for the crime of distributing controlled substances. To distance himself from the criminal element that got him there in the first place, and frankly, to survive his incarceration, Jesse made art. He would transfer images from newspapers onto prison bed sheets using hair gel. Soon, the inmates he was trying to avoid were coming to him. Not to harass the newbie, but to ask him to make some of his art-work for them. His work humanized those prisoners, and himself. Eventually, inmates convinced the system to allow Jesse to teach art. It would become the prison’s first multi-racial class.
I’ve often questioned the usefulness of my own art, my writing. Does the world really need another story? Does each of my novels have to have a meaningful theme to be good? Where does my writing, and any art, fit in the grand scheme of things? (These questions, I think, require discourse beyond the scope of this posting.) In other words, does my writing touch and affect others the way Jesse’s work did? But, I wonder, Does it need to? Can’t it be enjoyed for what it is? Even if other inmates had not come to him, Jesse’s art work meant something to someone: himself. It kept him focused, even meditative, during his sentence. He created a path for himself better than the one he had been on before; when he came out on the other side, he had a peace of mind he never knew before. If that is not a testament to the power of art, I don’t what is.
A little over 20 years ago I was filled with so much self-doubt that I quit writing. I didn’t write anything for about 6 months. It was then I realized (another epiphany) that I couldn’t not write. I write because I have to. Words and stories come to me that I have to commit to the page. Just ask my wife, I am not a pleasant person to be around if I don’t write. (Or less pleasant than normal?) Writing is my peace of mind. If someone reads it, all the better. Whether or not they find meaning in it is not as important as them simply reading and, hopefully, enjoying it.
The art I enjoy the most is made by artists who create because they have to, whether they have an audience or not. The power of that art can transform. Even if that transformation is of only one person.
So, I keep writing, because I have to. And I still listen to Alice Cooper (the old stuff), because sometimes it’s the only thing that gets me through.
(You can see Jesse Krimes’ work at his website.)