Interpretations are a funny thing, and something that comes up all the time when I'm thinking about art. I've talked about it a bit before, but lately I've been considering how frightening it can be at times to offer up a fragile idea that may be misinterpreted by another.
Creativity is often a very personal and intimate process that requires an inward gaze at emotional and psychological elements of humanity. Our moral compass is arguably at the core of how we experience the world, so it can be a precious and delicate aspect of ourselves that warrants protection. However intimacy can often be a sturdy path to compassion and understanding, which furthers our emotional development and sharing manifestations of our innermost treasures can create everlasting bonds.
There's a quote from Edmund McMillen (game designer and artist) in Indie Game: The Movie where he talks about wanting to connect with people, without the social requirements that often come with fulfilling that want. This resonates well with me as I've never been too keen on all the expected social interactions that come with getting to know others, but I love having a connection and familiar ground to appreciate with others. I'm sure it's not rocket science and there are many out there in the same place, but it's something that led me to the train of thought for this week's sketchbook.
Additionally, there's the idea of building the society you want to live in, rather than adjusting to the one you have. Growing up was often an exercise in conformity, as school and media told us that if we are one type of person, we have value. To be of the 'other' type was less desirable and often frowned upon, which is evident in the negative connotations of words like 'weird' or 'different'.
To be faced with this push to conform is a problem for a lot of people and is why we have interesting minority interest groups and communities that spring up to support like-minded individuals. I was always told not to pursue art because 'you'll never get a job doing that', so have done a number of random jobs here and there to 'pay the bills'. Again, it's not a unique story and offers no revelations, but it's noteworthy for context.
Consider this for someone creating ways to express their innermost desires and fears in order to find common ground with others. I believe we all share similar base needs and vulnerabilities once we get past the surface. At our core we have the same ethereal elements of love and fear that drive the majority of our lives, so we naturally protect ourselves with superficial veneers from those that would do us harm. Conversely, we harm others to show that we have done a better job of protecting ourselves than they have to gain power and superiority over them. It can be as simple as teasing someone for the way they cut their hair, right up to waging war because you don't believe in the same divine creator.
It's the madness of our humanity, and the very thing that connects us all.
As children all we wanted was to fit in and be liked by others, even as adults there are many of us who haven't changed. I was no different as a kid, but I soon learned that no matter how hard I tried to fit in and be a part of the herd, the more I discovered how different I was. Perhaps we all feel that way at one time or another, but it was a turning point for me that pulled me out from the cloud of low self-esteem and focusing on negative differences.
Instead I found it much more enjoyable to focus on the good in others and the good within myself. Learning to like who I naturally was as a person took a long time to discover, but it ultimately gave me an understanding of how to like and love others for who they really are underneath their veneer.
At the risk of getting much too self-indulgent and emo, this is what has made me strive to express those inner aspects of myself, in an attempt to connect with their counterparts in others. The connection I'm looking for is an understanding of our basic humanity, because I believe it is the path to compassion. If I recognise you for your essential being, it's easy for me to identify our similarities and find empathy between our-selves.
Of course this is all a roundabout way of trying to define why it's important to express our vulnerabilities and fears to others. Love and respect are often easier to express, as they are welcomed intentions that often have pleasurable outcomes. It's our weakness that we have been told to hide from and hide from others, so having weakness presented to us can be incredibly confronting.
Sharing aspects of ourselves that are considered weak only opens us up for attack, so we choose flight over fight and keep parts of ourselves hidden. It doesn't matter if our vulnerable sides are actually worthy of ridicule, if we think it will give others an opportunity to mock us, we will often hold back. The real trick is learning that none of these aspects have anything to do with any negative reaction they might bring. It's like how bullies often tease others because they feel inadequate by comparison, thus acting in a way that gives them power over those they feel threatened by. Some poor souls fear everyone they meet and lash out like a dog cornered and afraid, just to avoid an imagined competition where they believe they might lose. Without compassion and empathy, we're left at odds with the world and that's not the society I want to live in.
I'd rather know that everyone around me feels accepted and capable of pursuing their interests. I want everyone to be in their element and find value in their work, love from their friends and family, and purpose in their life. Nobody can actively give this to anyone else, but I believe that we are able to create the conditions for this to become the norm.
I share the belief that understanding our fundamental similarities is a good way to start cultivating the environment for compassion to grow. While the world of fear wants to highlight our differences to create animosity, we must counter its effects with love to connect and allow compassion to thrive.
The hard part is finding a way to express these abstract fundamentals to others so that we might recognise our counterparts. This is the job of the artist in my opinion; to communicate that which is often so fragile that our clumsy words and expressions break it as soon as we attempt to capture its essence.
When we share a connection with a piece of music, or a painting, or any piece of art, we are recognising something that we can't explain, but can all relate to. It's a warming sensation fuelled by love and understanding that will only ever improve our relationships with others.
It's why I sometimes try to express fears and vulnerabilities that are deeply personal. It may be terrifying to take a leap of faith, but the successes make the failures worthwhile.
Go ahead and interpret things in whatever way has meaning for you (it will be different for everyone), but try and find that thread of connection that binds us together. It's invigorating to share an intimate connection with a complete stranger, without ever saying a word or a gesture.
That's the goal - achieving it is another thought entirely.