Sunday, November 18, 2012

I Have Not Art To Reckon My Groans

Art isn't as special as some artists would have you believe. Art, like religion, came about in early humans as a means of communication, a way of keeping the group together. Telling stories, painting on cave walls, ritual dances and music, communal prayer, etc., all provided a means through which a society stayed tightly knit, and it helped them to survive. Art is just one form of communication among many others. And that which unites is also that which divides. Whatever keeps a group of people together also pits them against everyone else. This is not only natural but was at one time a necessity and thus good (and still is in many societies, despite what utopian idealists might like to believe). We still see controversy surrounding art and groups of people slamming each other in print over their various interpretations of art. Art, again like religion, is an astoundingly subjective phenomenon and one that has the miraculous power to unite, and the astounding power to bitterly divide.

Why, then, am I an artist? What need have I to create? Why bother contribute to this orgy of good and evil when in the end it's all so very superfluous? I'll tell you why I create. I create because I don't know how to be otherwise. But I don't just create because I have some inborn inclinations that when bottled up may cause me to blow my top. I also, and perhaps mainly, create because I am a boring, lonely, and phenomenally moody person who wants to be loved. (Luckily alongside these pitiable inclinations God and Nature threw a few gifts into my gene pool as well, including an ear for music and words). 

I have two fundamental problems which contribute to, or aggravate, my need to create: a nearly total lack of intimacy since adolescence, and an overflowing excess of self-loathing. As per the former problem, I create art in an attempt to communicate with people and give myself a delusional sense of love and acceptance. Addressing the latter problem, creating art both reminds me that I'm not completely worthless as a person and, since my self-loathing is a loathing of not just the personal self but of the species to which I belong, helps me to beautify the world around me and provides for me a useful tool in uncovering some of the angelic qualities innate in my fellow humans. I struggle to find the divinity in humanity (and the humanity in divinity, for that matter).

The yearning for physical intimacy is as natural inclination as the instinct to eat and drink. All animals have the drive to mate. If humans did not have this drive then we'd die out as a species, and our extremely specific (at times seemingly ridiculous) social codes regulating reproduction would not have made it into our religious systems. But what is more important to me is not just the drive to mate itself, but also the emotions to which it has become attached as humans have changed over the last few million years. All this grey matter between our base instincts and our consciousness has complicated matters and led us to desire not just sex but also what we've come to call "love." However, love and the drive to mate are not synonymous. My throat tightens and my eyes tear up at the thought of my friends and family because I love them so much. My heart beats harder and my breath grows deeper at the thought of a woman's naked body. Yet these two sensations, passionate love and passionate lust, have remained almost always completely separate for me. And this concerns me. I know platonic love, and I thank God every day for the over abundance of it that I've been given, but I do not know romantic love. To find that beauty, that purity of body and soul, which arouses both my physical desires and my tearful affections is virtually unknown to me. I admittedly beg and plead with the Fates that I may someday feel the passion that all people seek, and certainly by my age most people have felt, but I've been deprived. Whether by my own subconscious fears shielding me from the pains which may accompany the pleasures, or by the designs of Nature herself, I do not know the touch or taste of romantic love. (I say touch or taste because I've officiated enough weddings to know the sights and sounds of it. Let me also amend this by noting that I have been in emotional-physical relationships, but I question my intentions and true feelings regarding all of them. The fact that I question whether or not I've been in love says to me that I've certainly not been in love). It is mere faith that keeps me believing in love. But the longer I go without it the more I feel comfortable in its absence, and this above all disturbs me right to my core. Nevertheless, I was born a romantic and, for better or worse, a romantic I have remained, from times of miserable desperation to times of cynical complacency.

This is one reason I enjoy ballet. Ballet is not at all an overtly sexual art form and the dancers are hardly making sexual movements like in many other forms of dance (especially if you're unlucky enough to walk into a contemporary club or bar and see what people call "dancing"). Yet there in ballet I see before me the physical human form very clearly, and it is moving with such precision and grace that I often find it both very sensually intriguing and very emotionally moving. All at once it is sexual and it is spiritual. (Do understand that although I often speak of physical things, intellectual things, and emotional things as though they are somehow separate, I am merely doing so for clarification and specificity rather than accuracy. Since emotions and thoughts are both the result of physical processes in the brain and other hormonal centers of the body, it is absurd to say that something is physical but not emotional, or emotional but not intellectual, or intellectual but not physical. They are all one in the same and part of one unit and process). This interplay of passion on so many levels strikes a cord deep within my soul. It's also why I love Shakespeare. For instance, a lot of people who know his plays well come to a plateau whereupon they no longer see Romeo and Juliet as a great romance, but as merely a tale of two horny and stupid teenagers who selfishly indulge themselves and end up hurting everyone around them. I look at Romeo and Juliet and I say, "Hey, they may have been selfish, immature, and moronic, but at least they had passion in their short lives." We don't have to allow ourselves to become adolescents again to appreciate the reckless purity of their desires.

But what good does it do me to create art? My reasons, as stated before, are inherently and unashamedly selfish. I do it for love. I do it because I'm sick in my heart and desperate to be loved. When I create a piece of music it's not because I'm some post-60s idealist who thinks "rock n' roll can save the world"; it's because I'm hoping that someone somewhere will hear that music, relate to it, and in some form or another love me for it (Mind you, I don't mean that I intend to write some miraculous love song that will make fan girls fall into obsession with me. I gave up that folly when I was 19. What I mean to say is that by writing music I am putting my heart into melodies and harmonies and in an indirect way the listener, if moved, thus allows me into her or his heart. It's sort of a form of compensation for my own nonexistent love life). I crave passion, and sometimes I have to simply make it up. The reverse is also true. I don't just do it because I'm an attention whore pathetically scrambling for affection. I also create because I love people. I'm an extreme empath and I want people to feel good. But 95% of the time, humans prove themselves so wretched and stupid that I can't help but hate them (Mind you, my misanthropy stems mainly from the fact that people are so horrible to each other. In other words, I hate them because I love them). So, by creating art in which I celebrate the beauty of humankind I pacify my own derision, thus making it easier to love them. I create a mask of divinity and place it upon my fellow people. This is also what makes the figure of Christ so special to me. Whether or not he is a divinity incarnate or merely a 1st century apocalyptic preacher is irrelevant. Because of what he became in the eyes of the early Church he consequently became for me, raised as I was in a predominantly Western Christian society, the perfect representation of the center of the universe - where human and god meet, where sacred and profane meet, where pure and vulgar meet.

Art is meaningful, but ultimately it's just a form of communication, no more special than spoken language. Although I sometimes get swept up in the ideology of art, knowing well that music, dance, and visual arts are all in their own ways universal languages which can speak to all peoples in all times, I'm not delusional. Music and dance began to evolve before spoken word, and the apes who eventually evolved into human beings used both of these practices to create harmony, unity, and order within their troops. Before government, there was dance. Before religion, there was music. These things are ingrained within us, and we can hardly deny them without denying ourselves in the worst way. But humans also used these things as unifying forces in very small societies. Once the Agricultural Revolution swept across the world we could no longer rely on simple organizational practices and egalitarian ideals (which were not ideals per se, but rather just the way things worked) to keep order. Hierarchies became necessary, and have remained so. Humans can only keep track of so many people at once, 100-150 people on average according to researchers, and this is about the size of a healthy hunter-gatherer group. Beyond that number, human comprehension fails and we need other people to do the work for us. This delegation of responsibility necessitates hierarchy, as there consequently needs to be someone "higher up" to oversee the work of others, regulating and unifying all the separate spheres of service without actually knowing every little detail. This is how we've ordered ourselves for thousands of years, and - don't let the hippies fool you - without mass plague, famine, or nuclear winter there is little chance of humankind ever going back to small egalitarian societies, and Communism has proved time and time again that egalitarian ideals do not work on a grand scale. 

When I look at humans in their little social groups, or larger religious, ethnic, or national identities, a most prevalent thought in my mind is, "Dance, you stupid monkeys, dance!" How despicable and boring the human race becomes when their behavior is so repetitive and predictable that the only reasonable conclusion one can draw is that we are naught but hapless puppets of the gods, marionettes on cosmic strings, monkeys with fezzes trained to do stupid tricks for scraps. (The audacity we have to call ourselves "evolved"!)  But when I look at humans as individuals, a most prevalent thought in my mind is, "Dance you beautiful angels, dance." How vibrant and wondrous the human being becomes when one can see just how infinitely special and unique each individual is. These two thoughts co-exist in fair balance in my mind, and they're ever ready to launch me into a stream of consciousness whereupon I declare my utter hatred of my species or my undying love and devotion to my brethren.  Living with this tension, this love and hate of the world around me, is one thing that drives me to create. Art pacifies the tension and allows me to live with it in a rather ironic peace.

Art is essentially, for me, therapy. I don't create art because I want to. I create it because I have to (what a dreadfully cliche thing to say, but it's God's honest truth). Now, because I've laid down some fairly horrible reasons for being an artist, allow me to be just a trifle more horrible before you walk away from this completely disgusted. I say I create art for lack of intimacy. That is an emptiness I would like to think someday will be partly, if not wholly, filled by a real human female (rather than the ones I make up in stories or songs). Don't let New Age philosophers fool you, humans are not complete on their own, nor are we capable of being complete on our own. We are social animals and need socialization of varying kinds to be healthy and happy. Do we need one single spouse or lover for an entire lifetime? Not at all (in fact it's somewhat unnatural for humans to have only one mate during their lives). But we do need other people. (Yes, yes, we in the West are obsessed with individuality and self-reliance, and these are virtues, but ultimately as ideals they are ridiculous and silly. No matter how "self-reliant" you are, if you live in a developed Western society such as the US, you are entirely dependent upon it). And we, as animals, need physical intimacy. We're wired by Nature that way. I've survived 95% of my life since adolescence without physical intimacy (and before that it was of course merely the hugs and kisses of family), and I'm living proof that we don't need sexuality or sensuality to survive. But there is a world of difference between merely surviving and thriving.

The other reason I create art (my at times consuming misanthropy), is not likely to ever go away, because humans are not likely to evolve quickly enough to suit my high and totally unrealistic standards for them. Now here's the truly horrible and disgusting part: I don't think that at my core I really want them to. If humans were better to each other and acted more like the angels on their shoulders told them to, I think I'd be dreadfully bored. I think I would have no motivation to do anything beyond take care of the basic necessities of survival (my thoughts on how everything we do is in fact a basic necessity convoluted by millenniums of evolution and our overgrown brains is a subject for another essay). I think that because I'm a white middle class male living in a Western society, my basic needs are so well taken care of that without other forms of conflict, mainly philosophical and behavioral in my case, I'd get so bored that the animal in me would leap out and strangle the rest of me to death. This inner conflict, this tension with luxury, this resistance to peace, is also why I think Western societies have such strong predispositions toward violence in movies, video games, and other recreational activities. We don't actually have to fight that hard to survive and it throws our natural inclinations to kill and dominate way out of whack. So I owe you a debt of gratitude, humankind, for being the stinkers you are. It's given me something to do.

But despite that underlying cynicism (and not pessimism), I really do love people, passionately so. And I love making people feel better. This is why I hate religious conflict so much. Religions are near-miraculous methods people utilize to make sense of the chaos of life and feel better about the world around them. And people who go around attempting to stamp our other peoples' beliefs by force or by psychological coercion, when they themselves don't have a clue about how the universe actually works (because none, I'll say it again, NONE of us do); those people represent to me the true scum, the true shit-flinging ape, in humankind. But even that behavior is part of a natural inclination (to keep one's society in tact and oust the dissidents). Ah well, what can ya do? Thanks to the Stoic philosophers and Lao-Tzu, I've come to a place whereupon I've concluded that it's better to accept things as they are and just do what I'm able to do, attaching no significance to the outcome of my actions. Success will thus feel less egocentric and failure will thus lose its sting. And thanks to Jesus I can still love all these stupid apes passionately, whilst fully acknowledging that the vast majority of them are going to reject me and everything I represent.

It takes a true idiot to do so, and I'm just the man for the job.