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Nietzsche was right

Slouching Through Art: We’re all greater artists than we realize

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Sorry folks, but this one’s going to be completely uninspiring. I’m beat. I’ve spent the last five weeks working myself to the bone. I’m surrounded and drained by people going through 16 different kinds of personal hell. Illness, life drama, financial failure, home foreclosure, dying businesses, dead relationships, dying relationships, relationships that are alive but should have died long ago, career transitions, career crash-and-burns, lame bosses, lame wives and husbands, lame boyfriends, girlfriends, ghosts of ex-whatevers, and relentless ingestion of whatever chemicals will allow these seeming victims of tragedy to ignore the pain, stumble on, and keep complaining. I see people wallowing in a gloriously infantile place where they feel absolutely justified in everything they do — a delightfully inert and static limbo, where reality can be brushed away with a swig, a puff, or a pill or two. In this place, we can completely ignore our own role in whatever tragedy has arrived.

Nietzsche, having burned through his own illusions at a frightening rate, said we are all greater artists than we realize — and he wasn’t talking about painting or playing the piano. He was talking about the immense human capacity for self-deception.

As artists and creatives, we are particularly inclined to employ that kind of art — the creative act as justification for our love of entropy and negation, as fuel for self-serving degeneration. For the immensely creative, this can become a way of life — living in a world of our own creation, doing one thing, living one way, wallowing in self-and-other destruction, and using our creative capacity to reframe it as something else — something noble, something heroic even.
 
The sad, sad truth, meanwhile, is blindingly evident to everyone else.  

Don’t worry. Eventually reality will sneak up and punch you square in the fucking face, and then you won’t have a choice but to address what you have or haven’t done with your life, what you have faced or ignored, what you have buried and what you’ve had the courage to dig up and deal with.

All this tragedy is a special kind of test for those of us with more than our fair share of creative capacity. We have a choice — respond creatively by building and engineering solutions, or respond creatively by hiding in a corner, wallowing in self-immiseration and imagining ourselves to be some kind of victim or misunderstood hero.

For several months now, artistic powerhouse Arlene Goldbard has been ending every talk she gives with the same message to artists and activists. She calls it The Challenge. It is this: “This moment of seismic shifts and insecurity in economies, governments and communities challenges us to make our work equally valid and powerful as art, as spiritual practice and as political speech or action.”

“I keep talking about The Challenge because I understand that in some root place where collective meanings repose, the highest aims of art, spirituality and politics are all the same, and all of them can be summed up in a single statement: They cultivate a transformative awareness. These days, we must all be farmers, husbanding multiple crops of skill and capacity. But the bumper crop we most need is an abundant harvest of the awareness that infuses action,” she says in a recent blog entry.

Meanwhile, I’m just too tired, and maybe a little hung over. What’s that saying? One day at a time. Yeah, one day at a time.

Starting tomorrow. Now where’s my bottle opener. ...

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