Art, like prayer, is a hand outstretched in the darkness, seeking for some touch of grace, which will transform it into a hand that bestows gifts.
~ Franz Kafka ~
Well, it’s healed me, alright, plenty of times. Sometimes truly pulled me from the brink. And I say that factually, without melodrama, dramatic persona though I may be. Both in the creating of it, and in the deep receiving of it.
There was a particularly dark year one year, one very bleak stretch of life, when – by reasons of a confluence of influences – I was peeking into the Great Abyss. Yes, so dark as to be questioning the point of Going On At All. It happens to a lot of us, eh? Artistic-types and all types of types. For although this is a glory of a planet, it’s also brimming with endlessly erratic human-types and replete with crushing systems and expectations and disappointments and despair and traffic.
So, I was getting Netflix DVDs at the time and somehow I got hooked by the idea of watching all five seasons of the original “Upstairs, Downstairs,” which I hadn’t seen since I was a child. (Period pieces are my ice cream; I slurp them up by the gallon.) And I spent all day, during that shadowy stretch, living for the moment that I could put on a fresh episode at night, curl up on the couch and be pulled into the warm, deep, healing waters of Great Art.
Now, if you know the original “Upstairs Downstairs,” you know how exquisitely it expresses so much tragedy, so very eloquently. And somehow the soul of that series (though as far removed from my life cirsumstances as it could possibly be) resonated with the depth of my despondancy, and by doing so, nourished my spirit and my perspective profoundly. That consistently brilliant, humble artistry that I relied on night after night during that black tunnel of time sent glimmerings of light into my darkness, and impressed upon me, viscerally and forevermore, the miraculous ability of Great Art to pull a sad soul to shore.
And as for the soul-soothing powers of art-making, well… I was fortunate enough to have once worked on a suicide hotline for a stretch of time (without a doubt, one of the most meaningful and educational chapters of my life). At some point in a conversation with certain callers, I often ventured to ask if they created art of any kind.
And I will tell you this, with zero hyperbole: whenever I asked that question, every single person not only said “yes,” but that was the very moment I could hear in their voice that the sun had broken through the clouds inside of them. And we’d begin to talk about how they felt about their creations, and maybe somebody’d read me a poem or tell me how much they love to paint wild images on cars or restore the beading on vintage handbags. And the conversation thereafter so often took a crucial turn in the direction of hope.
So yes, for me and obviously for so many, creating art is also the turning of heart and hand away from defeat and toward purpose, toward meaning. And receiving Art, that is, being soulfully receptive to timeless, towering talents (whether they be musical or comic or literary or whatever) has the miraculous ability to uplift, soothe, validate, and if we’re very fortunate, transform us.
That’s some very big medicine, indeed.