Are we artists or masters of illusion? How does art, community, and creativity coincide with the human experience? Are we all guilty of being fake artists?
Realizing two things, I begin a somewhat apprehensive dissertation.
- I am fish in the pond I’m about to assess.
- This is a dive into a question. This is certainly not a staunch take on matters larger than myself.
I’m careful to write this, though it has been a frequented topic of discussion amongst my friends lately, because if I ask this question, and do not like the answer, I will openly (and internet-ly) testify against myself.
Are we artists or masters of illusion? Are we authentic or are we fakers? Is our art fake?
We live in a culture of the instagraming millennials, amongst whom I go out of my way sometimes with which to associate. This people group lives in a world of windows. Each window shopper peers into a world that is carefully crafted to look exactly how we want it to. They’re “windows into our lives”and yet- are they actually our lives or are they figments of our imagination? Better yet, are they the figments that we wished lived in our imagination?
We take a square, or perhaps not so square (depending out your style) photo of what we call our form of art, add artificial lighting and color, attach a caption, and press “post”. With the click of a button our hope is that the ones we quite eagerly call “followers” will see and “like”. But what is a like? In our minds a like means that someone on the other side of this window took a glance into my life and thought well of it. Judging by the 10 identical pictures I see on my instagram feed a day, I would say we not only desire them to think well of it, but to wish it for themselves. Then, with a finishing touch, we tag it with a very ambitious word that we believe best describes our absolutely synthetic “creation” – Authenticity. By including this tag we believe our viewer will now be deceived into thinking that the window they are currently looking into is a perfect snapshot of our current day to day life- and they are.
I sat at a clinic inside of a grocery store a while back (Yes, I may be that blue-collar). As I sat there on a Tuesday, late morning, feeling awful, and struck with a sickness that took away any form of attractiveness I could have once thought I represented, I began to browse the social media world. This windows beckoned a beautiful life. Minimalism, simplicity, beauty, coffee, the pacific northwest, best friends, community, and dare I say it- authenticity. I paused for a moment. Feeling a desperate need to live the moment and take myself out of this metaphysical world, I decided to view the world around me with a fresh set of eyes.
What did I see? I saw middle aged women with no make up on. I saw two ladies who were quite graciously, and with much care, helping a group of mentally handicapped students through a middle-of-the-day shopping experience. I saw a couple of contemporaries in my current flu-like environment sitting close by looking just as stuffy and miserable as I did. I saw pain. I saw charity. I saw underneath the makeup of affluent suburban housewives. I saw life the way it was for each of these humans on their everyday Tuesday late morning.
This was a window they didn’t choose for me. There was no color correction, just blue-white, grocery store fluorescent lighting. There was no perfect arrangement of pour-over coffee and notebooks, just a quick starbucks crap-cup, and a shopping list on the back of a piece of wrinkled copy paper. There was no glorious mountain met with a sea-tattered shoreline, just aisles and aisles of necessary basket items.
Before I take the step into cynicism, I will pause and clarify. Are their times in life of inexplicable beauty? Absolutely. Are they picture-perfect moments of the glory of life, and all its pleasures? Doubtlessly yes.
There are a few times through my week that I see these through the windows of my eyes. Throwing my jovial son into the cool, crisp, January air. A fresh cup of (yes poured over okay? I’m a hypocrite) coffee and a good conversation of depth with a best friend. A beautiful camera or song or writing or poem, yes they’re there. And these are the things that get the likes when displayed for the world to see.
But is this art? Is this creativity?
Recently when asked why I write songs, I did not respond with, “because when I post the album cover I get the most Facebook likes”. I did not respond with, “Because in order to fit in with a certain group or community I have to uphold a certain reputation.” I did not respond with, “Art is ‘In’.”
I responded with the truth. I write songs (make art) because I have to. When I’m happy and everything is peachy in life, I enjoy it. I eat ice cream with friends, I watch movies, I have a dance party with my son. But when life is not so, and I have questions, the mundane takes over, the pain grabs a hold of me, my life is confusing.. these are the times I dig into art. For me, art is a medium toward finding answers or dealing with the lack thereof. For me, art is the searching which usually ends up with the revelation of God to mankind.
So I finally digress and return to the initial question. Are we artists or masters of illusion? Are we truly authentic or are we fakers? Is our art fake?
Obviously these phrases are flawed, and perhaps not the best way to ask the question. However, you understand the point.
Why do we call it art? If it’s not deemed art.. if it’s not described as authentic… if it’s simply the more picture-perfect frames of our everyday lives captured and shared with those we love, then may we carry on.
However, if we call it art, then what makes it that? What is the painful process that led us there? Where is the reality? The question? The longing that led to creativity? Because creativity is after all, I believe, the hint to or glimpse into what we have never known. The nod or ode from mortal to immortal- from natural to supernatural- from the now to the eternal -or at least it is for me
If we call it authenticity, then where are the pictures that aren’t so picture-perfect? Where are the pictures of the process, the poems of the incomplete, the songs of the longing, the Styrofoam, Folgers, cubical, grocery, sick and tired glimpse into an authentic life. And If it’s authentic then why is the authenticity missing?
If it’s community, then were are the people? Where are the names, the struggles, the conversations, the fights, the sacrifice, the forgiveness, the faces? Where is the love that stands by one another when the world falls and the rest of society turns against? Where are the listening ears when people have questions against what we’ve all thought was the cultural belief we should stick by? Where is the searching with one another in love to find out out how life is supposed or not supposed to be?
And the biggest question of all: if it’s creative, then where is the creativity?