I watched Amanda Palmer’s talk on Connecting the Dots and making art and stirring controversy and…
I remembered this argument I had with my Chinese History professor one day back in college. It was a pretty epic battle – my 19-year-old arrogance vs. his desire to teach his class and make a point.
I’m pretty sure we both lost.
Anyway – the battle started because he wanted us to try to imagine a nation where art, music, literature didn’t exist because it had all been outlawed.
I raised my hand, “That’s stupid. You can’t outlaw art. And even if you did, it wouldn’t go away. You can’t stop people from making art, it’s what we do.”
I argued all the way back to primitive times and the art we found on cave walls, I dragged in Jamaica and steel drums made from old barrels, I talked about kids with sticks doodling in the dirt, adults humming as they cooked in the kitchen, the oral story telling that helped found civilization.
“You can’t outlaw art, it’s an intrinsic part of being human. Art is how we express our humanity. It’s how we communicate, how we process, how we cope. Outlawing it would be dumb, you’d just turn everyone into criminals.”
“Ah-ha!” he said, as if I had just made his point for him.
I don’t know if I had, but I know that for perhaps the first time in my life – I realized that I was an artist. I was a creator.
And I think, for the first time ever, I realized that our drive to create is what defines us. Look at the gods we aspire to – they’re creators, that is their highest gift. It’s the thing we identify with and worship – creation – of art, of tools, of tech…
I remember having previously believed that I was not an artist, courtesy of my elementary school art teacher. I laid claim to the title writer early on, and story-teller even more so. If Bard was still a viable profession, I would be a bard. But somehow, I did not equate that with being an artist…
I love to tell stories, to make them up, to retell truths in a fresh light so that they can be seen in new ways.
As Amanda says, I like to connect the dots.
There are times when I don’t feel much like a writer anymore.
Part of that has come from my association with so many writers. With so many rules.
I’ve never been good at rules.
I read a post a while back that echoed so many of my writer “friends” in defining what it means to be a writer. I was blessed to come to this post via some of my professional author friends who make their living writing words and telling stories who all shared it with a statement along the lines of, “Wow. I don’t do any of these things. Guess I better get a day job!” and some cyber laughter.
It helped me see the ridiculousness of this approach – and it’s everywhere, not just in writing – this idea that my way is THE ONLY WAY.
I think we all fall into this trap from time to time.
I know when my husband and I drive through town he’s always a little perplexed at the routes I take. I don’t get there the same way he would.
But it’s okay – we still get there.
I was at my favorite writer’s conference recently, and I admit, I felt like a bit of a fraud all weekend. I was there not just as a participant, but also as a presenter. And yet… despite it being a fiction writer’s conference… I haven’t written a single word of fiction in over a year.
I’ve had other projects, other goals, other itches to scratch.
It didn’t take away from what I was presenting, I know that material well as a reader and as an editor – but still… I felt like a cheat.
Amanda reminded me though, the format doesn’t matter. The stories do. Connecting the dots does. Making art – that’s what matters.
She also talked about the idea, the fear, that “this isn’t the time” for art, for story telling, for that kind of story telling… And then – she calls out that heinous bullshit.
Because it is ALWAYS the right time to create art.
When we are hurt, when we are scared, when we are raw and wounded…
When we are ecstatic, when we are in love, when we are open and wondering…
When we’re tired, burnt out, exhausted by the daily grind…
When we’re pumped up, full of energy, bursting through our creative glass ceilings…
Art is how we display our humanity, how we connect not just the stray dots of the stories and scenes we take in each day – but also how we reach out and connect our dots to each other.
We live through stories and images – through art. We exist in fable. We reach each other through leaps of imagination and courage.
We know our art has succeeded when a single person tells us, “Yeah, I felt that.”
We don’t need permission to make art. We don’t need a publisher, or an agent, or a label, or a gallery to bless us with their patron’s wand in order to call ourselves artists. We don’t need validation from every person we meet, or a set of rules telling how to structure our time or hold the brush.
We just need to tell our stories.
And find one other person, just one, standing among the rubble, trying to make sense of it all to see us, hear us and say, “You felt it too?”
Then the art stops being about you – and it starts being about everyone.
Your dots connect to their dots. The ripples spread.
The best line, the line that reminds us to strip away our fear – “If I’d known 250,000 people were going to see it, I would have written something better. But if I’d written something better, it never would have gotten written…”
Tell your story and let it go.
Create your art, the art only you can create, and then set it free.