nice to hear from you again, Jim. Was wondering what happened to you.
More years ago than I care to recall I realized mankind’s greatest mystery wasn’t anything so dramatic as the location of Atlantis or who really built the pyramids. Think back with me in time to the dawn of mankind, beyond even the stone age and into a period when the best weapon man possessed was a club or sharpened stick. Go inside the caves where such people frequently lived and struggled to exist. Imagine life at that time.
How much of your daily life would consist of simply finding something to eat or staying warm? What did you have to do if you wanted a drink of water? What would you think or do if you became ill or injured in some way? Tasks so simple for us today that we don’t even think about them were monumental obstacles to early man.
It is in this incredible environment that we find the first examples of man’s greatest mystery. Move back a little deeper into these prehistoric caves and we find paintings. Pictures obviously telling stories of dangers and hunts and courage and loss cover the walls.
I suggest that mankind’s greatest mystery is actually the existence of art! How could a people such as early man, with life’s pressures on them like we cannot imagine and their very survival hanging by a thread, stop and invent art? What was the purpose of it? What is the purpose of any form of art? Why do we continue it in great abundance even today? It’s not the money, for few artists receive much of anything for their trouble.
What makes a caveman, a housewife, a shopkeeper or anyone set aside part of their day and pick up a pen, a brush, a knife or hammer and chisel?
When we stop and think about the existence of art, we realize the whole notion is crazy. You can’t eat it. You can’t wear it. It won’t keep you warm or defend you from your enemies. In fact, what we call “art” is perhaps the most useless thing on the planet, even worse than useless. It is a waste of time, energy and resources. Indeed, when we consider art in this light, it does become a very deep mystery. And yet I believe the answer is both simple and extraordinary.
Man is not just a thinking creature. Man is also a feeling creature. All animals think to a degree but none possess man’s depth of feeling and emotion. This feeling and soul of emotion is the secret fire that inspires art in mankind, from the caves to the penthouse studios and lonely computer vigils of today where artists struggle to give birth to that feeling and emotion growing within them.
Compounding this mystery is the fact that not everyone can create some form of art. Only a few can do it. Are those few blessed or cursed? And if we think about that, it brings another mystery to the front. Why was art ever tolerated in the first place? Why didn’t someone kick over that first cup of pigment in the cave and say to the first artist, “Stop this silliness. We have food to hunt and better things to do.” And yet our “first artist” was allowed to continue his paintings and they in turn were allowed to exist even until today. These paintings were even respected. They were not defaced or ruined by the stupid graffiti fools put on such things today.
And thus we see before and all around us the human mystery of art and each of us at this moment has chosen to surround themselves with some form of it. Is there a painting or picture on your wall? Do you have a delicate little something on your dresser? A ring or pendent you wear? We all have such things and we love them for whatever reason. Each speaks something to us.
But what of the artist? What sort of person is he or she? Why do a few of each generation come forth to create this art? There are a few hints. The famous English author H. Rider Haggard, author of King Solomon’s Mines and She, once remarked that he wrote because he had too. With this idea in mind, we find countless other artists literally driven to create. From the Sistine Chapel to Van Gogh, Edgar Allen Poe, Emily Dickenson, and Hemmingway, all of these people were driven. None were happy. And they are only the tip of the iceberg. Individuals who lead splendidly joyous lives are rarely artists. Art comes from feeling, not relishing the good life. Somewhere along the road of life something happens to individuals to so fill them with yearning or sorrow or some other such powerful emotion that they forever become a slave to this feeling. Some even end in suicide as an attempt to escape this pressure within, Van Gogh for example. And seldom does the blessing of fame and recognition offer much relief either.
What now shall we say of the rest of us? The cavemen who sit before the paintings on the wall? Those of us who look at a painting and feel the beauty or contentment within our souls? Those who read a story or poem and weep or laugh joyously and feel transported back to happy times in their own lives. What can be said for the vast majority of mankind, who observes, preserves and supports art and the artist in one fashion or the other.
I stated earlier that all mankind is a feeling creature. I submit that the difference between artist and others is simply that the artist is able to express these feelings. We writes because we must. We paint because we must. We are driven by this force to vent these feelings via whatever artistic medium fits our hand. And once we have created the thing, we feel relief...at least for a time. Creating the thing has drained away this powerful force within the artist and until it builds within once more until like Haggard we “write because we must” we are temporarily at peace and safe.
And this is where the rest of the clan gathered around our first artist finds their relief as well. They were not able to create the painting. But they were capable of appreciating it...of feeling the emotion. Thus they to feel relief...for a time.
The artist then becomes the lightening rod to emotion and all feelings. It is through his or her art that the rest of us are somehow relieved, transported, assured and validated as members of the human species. Perhaps without art and the artists to create it our whole species would go insane. What else could give our soul relief from the daily pressures and emotions? How else can we vent such things as sadness, anger, yearning, and dreams? What if art is no mystery at all...but rather a necessity?
Mankind must have art to sustain itself. What started as perhaps the greatest mystery of mankind, totally useless on the one hand, becomes in fact part of our very life force. For this reason we should guard its purity carefully. Art can be perverted and distorted. Trash can be held up and declared by the ignorant and the unscrupulous as art. The end result is a distortion and perversion of the human spirit. God created the universe with “The Word.” Hitler started the most horrible war in human history armed only with words and he wasn’t the first to do so. We must never underestimate the power we are dealing with. Doesn’t everything begin with just a few words?
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