On the Usefulness of Art-Making

In lecture halls and galleries and college art departments, people make extravagant claims about the importance of art and artists–how necessary these are, how the human spirit could not exist without them.

Pish-posh.

In the real world, it is the artist who benefits. Art is a byproduct of a free society, and its usefulness comes mainly to those who create it. If life is suffering, as Buddha asserted, it is the artist who transcends personal suffering, transforms it through the alchemy of art. Art allows its practitioners to take the imperfections and incompleteness of life–the blemish on the apple peel, the longing of unrequited love, the inevitable losses of aging and death–and remake these into something beautiful.

And through this struggle to create meaning where there is pain, the artist affirms the value of human experience–the full range of it.

The creative act then is an act of courage because through it, the artist discovers the bounds of her own assumptions, the limits of her own life, and tests them. In so doing, the artist disrupts the surface of life and hints at its depths. And in piercing the membrane of her own insular world, the artist expands, moves outward, and develops the capacity for compassion. She becomes better able to understand lives not her own, to consider angles she might have otherwise condemned.

To create art is to stand on the abyss before the darkness, to dance in the face of death, and even if no one is watching–maybe especially if–art-making serves as a light, a light that makes the journey possible, a light by which there can be joy in even the darkest hour.

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