On art, democracy, & dangerous play
by Allison Marie Conway
Art & Soul
There are a few artists and thought leaders I follow and read regularly a few times a week. No matter how busy my days or how disconnected I may be feeling from my creativity, there are a select few people I turn to again and again to ground me and at the same time who expand my view of the world and my place in it as a creative.
One of these artists is Maria Popova, author of the incredible treasure trove which is Brain Pickings. The amount of sheer love in the form of magnitude of work she does to curate her collection of posts on everything from art to philosophy, from poetry to astronomy, from activism to mysticism, is astonishing. And such an incredible gift.
Most recently I’ve been taken by this piece in particular, in which she explores the writings of Iris Murdoch, why art is essential for democracy, and the ways in which art makes us “not only human but humane.”
The sensuous nature of art is involved here, the fact that it is concerned with visual and auditory sensations and bodily sensations. If nothing sensuous is present no art is present. This fact alone makes it quite different from “theoretical” activities… Art is close dangerous play with unconscious forces. We enjoy art, even simple art, because it disturbs us in deep often incomprehensible ways; and this is one reason why it is good for us when it is good and bad for us when it is bad. —Iris Murdoch
It is no secret in my country, in the USA, democracy and freedom upon freedom is under attack. It is dizzying and maddening to say the very least. These are radical—sometimes, often even, inexplicably complicated and complex times—and one of the things that pains and concerns me the most is the attack on the truth. The eroding of our ability to engage in intelligent, respectful and respectable discourse as a humane society.
As a nation, as a world, as a global network of artists, writers, creatives, connected ever faster and with more and more urgency, we are losing touch with the essentials for growth, nourishment, deep thought, deep commitment to our soul’s purpose of truth-telling, no matter how painful or uncomfortable that may be.
I call myself a writer. Maybe you do, too, or maybe you don’t. But either way, we are all contributors to language, we are all users and shapers of words and ideas, how we use them to build up or destroy, to honor our common dignity or to pick away at it.
So not just this week, but these days in general, when facts seem harder and harder to pin down and the very use of language seems to be broken, splintered, desecrated, dismissed, and left for dead, I cling to the strength and wisdom of artists and thought leaders like Maria Popova and her work. She is an anchor, a pillar, a lighthouse.
We need art because we need to stay in touch with our own humanity. To remain humane, to remain close to compassion, understanding, knowledge, humility and grace we must all be concerned with how we use language. What we say, how we say it, why we say what we say, who we say it to, all of these things matter each and everyday. We are all speakers. We are all writers. Writing this world we live in, speaking our way one word at a time toward a more brilliant or more cruel existence.
Any society contains propaganda, but it is important to distinguish this from art and to preserve the purity and independence of the practice of art. A good society contains many different artists doing many different things. A bad society coerces artists because it knows that they can reveal all kinds of truths.” —Iris Murdoch
Allison Marie Conway has been writing poetry since she was ten years old, and is now the author of two published books. Every Monday she sends out a little love letter to fellow kindred creatives. You can sign up to receive these, and find out more about Allison, at her website.
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