Monday, August 31, 2015
Art and Truth
There are bars on the window of my hotel room.
The room sits on the sixth floor of an older building, and the brass framed windows open large enough to slide through, without a screen to feign the idea of security. Three white bars stretch across only the opening, bolted to stone and porcelain, with a bold-type logo stretched across the bottom reading ‘Guardian Angel.’
The bars make me want to jump more than the inviting cement waiting at the bottom of the six-storey drop.
Not that I want to die, mind you. I actually enjoy my life and am quite happy with the way things go, most of the time. But it’s difficult to fight that urge to leap from a rooftop, to play chicken with a transit train and lose, or to pull the steering wheel and send my car into a tree. I think it’s that adrenaline of oncoming death, that brief moment before tragedy hits where everything seems to hang still, that I’m really aching for. Something beyond the mundane, the trivial conflicts and strife that do more to drag you down rather than make you feel alive.
Of course, it’s not something that I talk to many about. Urges of destruction are rarely a socially acceptable topic to entertain at tea time, and yet these impulses are very real, and very there. It joins the many other dark little secrets of mine that are not tea-time worthy, and despite the fact that I know others face similar demons and entertain morbid thoughts, we all keep them tucked away, out of sight and out of mind.
But things don’t stay buried. Not in the mind and not in the world. And when wild dogs dig up our skeletons, we have no choice but to answer for them. I believe the more frightening option, however, is that these skeletons stay buried, that we harbour them in secret until the day we die, and those we leave behind have no idea what really took place within us.
Unfortunately, or fortunately, I am not able to silence the demons for long, or keep these morbid thoughts from bleeding out. Most often these themes and ideas creep out into my art. Stories of war, racism, utter despair, and struggle are those that I’m drawn to write. I want to look into the abyss and see what looks back. I want to know what’s hiding beneath everyone’s tea-time demeanour. I don’t want those secrets to stay secrets.
And today, as I leaned against the bars of my hotel room, looking out over the gloomy downtown Seattle and imagining a moment of free falling, I realized: you can’t lie in art. It is pure truth, and the things you create are a reflection of all you are within, the nice things and the not so nice things. It is impossible to create art without truth. Whether that truth is a well-known and accepted one, like the love between a mother and child, or something not so talked about, like the daily struggle against depression, you cannot make art without a reflection of soul taking place.
And perhaps that’s where I’ve gone wrong for the last little while. It’s difficult as a writer to sometimes share your work with others, as that is a piece of raw, unprotected soul that you are offering to them. It can be crushing to have others dismiss or criticize it, and I believe as we grow older, it makes us more guarded and less willing to show those pieces of ourselves, whether in art or otherwise. Without realizing it, we quietly censor ourselves more and more as life goes on, until we are nothing more than our tea-time demeanour, our polite little masks. For me, it’s become more and more difficult to share and create my work, being so overwhelmed by the opinions and criticisms of others, not necessarily about me or my writing, but about what I’m actually trying to say.
Is my message too dark? Will people be offended if I talk about these subjects? How do I portray this in a way that doesn’t make people think that I’m a monster?
On a walk with my boyfriend the other night, we discussed art and what made something “real” art. He made the point that art wasn’t to be shared, that “real” art was something created by the artist, for the artist. And though I argued vehemently, (“Of course art should be shared! It can’t be locked up in a box and forgotten!”) I think there’s definitely some truth in there. When you become so overwhelmed by what everyone else wants, which is very common when getting into the business side of art, you can’t hear your own inner muse. You can’t find your truth, because it gets mixed up in everyone else’s truths. And when you lose your own truth, you either can’t produce anything, falling prey to the devil’s “writer’s block,” or you lose all love for the craft.
I like to think diversity in art isn’t just about the artists themselves, but what you’re really saying. I like to think that the stories and truths within need to be as individualized as the artists, and we should be mindful of looking over each other’s papers too much. When you have too many people trying to stick their thumbs in the pie, you only get a crust full of holes. Inspiration is great, but there’s always a balance to things, and too much outside influence dilutes your individual style.
So, at least for me, that’s what I need to do: write truthfully. Be honest about what I feel and experience as a human. There are always those out there who feel just the same, who need those stories or that art to make them feel connected to someone else. To make them feel not so alone.
At the end of the day, what keeps me from pulling the steering wheel, from taking a swan dive, from leaping to dark impulses, isn’t some stupid ‘guardian angel’, but the fact I know I’m not alone. I know there are others out there like me, because I’ve shared my art and they’ve shared theirs. I know the world is dark and morbid and so am I, but it’s also full of incredible people, whom I hope to understand and who can understand me.
So I’ll be honest, even when it’s not easy. I’ll try to remember the feeling of art as a child, when it felt like my skin was as thick as steel. Because, let’s face it: I will have zero control over my demise when the time comes. I could die tomorrow, and I couldn’t bear to leave anything left unsaid.