Monday, November 3, 2008

Art in Hard Times

OK, so I've been struggling with this, and now I'm turning it over to you. When times seem hard or uncertain, what kind of art do you turn to? Or do you turn to art at all? Do you find comfort in the idea of art, or does it leave your consciousness because you are focused on other things? In other words, in hard times, what role does art play in your life?

I'm not interested in ideas about art, I'm interested in experience. While I know art should lift us up, remind us of beauty and our better selves, what I want to know is, when the chips are down and money is tight and you're not sure if you're safe in your own home, do you find a place for art, or does it fall away as irrelevant?

I need some comments on this one, so I'm gonna beg. Please, dear reader, share your experience with art (and by this I mean literature, film, music, visual art, theater, dance) when the going gets tough.

Thank you in advance. It means a lot to me.


Anonymous said...

I wonder whether you are referring to only the appreciation of art, or if you're also talking about its creation.

As for appreciation, I find it can be a form of escapism and relaxation. If I'm stressed out in general, I often want to read something that's funny or that inspires me to think in a more positive way.

Other times, I seek out art that reflects and brings out my feelings of frustration and anger. I want to feel it wash over me. It can be cathartic.

As for the creation of artistic expression, I feel it's empowering when times are tough. Whether you sing, write, sew, paint, or play the piano, it's part of you. It's in you and it's something that can't be taken away. It's satisfying to me to make something out of nothing. It's a powerful feeling at a time when I feel powerless in so many other ways.

erzsebet said...

I find that any extreme emotion changes my relationship to the Arts, no matter if times are overwhelmingly bad or unbelievably good. I seem to require a sort of emotional equilibrium to approach the entire cornucopia of Art, and certain genres/disciplines are in ascendence depending on how I perceive my life to be going. Since you've asked about 'art in hard times,' I'll focus on that aspect.

For me, Art does not fall away from my consciousness when times get difficult, but the mediums I engage with change. My involvement with music and the visual arts is lowest when things are not going well. In bad times, I find that my psyche is too raw to handle the emotional strumming of most music, and I withdraw from most visual arts, except the basest of comedies or serialized who-dun-its. That said, the tendency to immerse myself in literature becomes a sort of compulsion that magnifies in direct proportion to how tough things are: the more complex and challenging the literary style, the more I am drawn to it when the proverbial chips are down. Which, of course, means that what I'm reading says a lot about how I'm feeling. See me with Jennifer Egan, know I'm doing well. See me toting 'Gravity's Rainbow,' expect the worst!

Meredith brings up a good point on the creation of Art. Artistic creation is a way of making something matter, a way of refusing to be obliterated by a bad run of things, a way of making sense out of what seems senseless. The gift of creation is not one we should relinquish, especially not in difficult times. Oh, it's not easy! I fight the malaise, and there are times when I can't rally myself to write, but (so far!), I've always managed to return to my craft.

- erzsebet

Tiffany Hamburger said...

Thank you Mer, and Erzsebet, for your comments. Both of them have given me some grist for the ever-churning (but not always productive!) mill that is stuck inside my head.

I was asking, I guess, about appreciation and creation. For me, my appreciation of music and visual art seems to get all wonky when I'm down or feeling scared.

Music and visual art (like paintings, sculpture, etc.) become really important to me, but I also am so sensitive to them that I can barely handle it. There is always the risk that they will cause me to cry at any moment, and so to avoid intensity, I avoid art.

Literature is interesting, because my patience is so much less when times are tough. I want something to blow me away immediately--I feel the acute sense that time is too short--that our lives are under a terrible pressure--and so I want something amazing. Frivolity, like Erzsebet indicated, annoys me in hard times and is welcome in good.

However, film (and theater, though I hardly go to see theater) is like music and visual art. In hard times, I like escape--just saw a great Western (Appaloosa)--and that other world was just what I needed. Also I like comedies and romances in these times, but have trouble grappling with "issue" films in tough times.

As for creation, I find writing is so difficult to do in the best of times that I get even more despondent in hard times. I experience great self-doubt about doing something artistic, because I begin to get all serious and start contemplating what "matters."

The thing that sucks is that in tough times, I begin to lose my sense of humor. Does this happen to you? I hate it when I get serious, but I succumb to it so easily!

Thanks for sharing your thoughts with me... I appreciate it. :-)

Isadora Cody said...

well, i know your post was a while ago, but i stumbled upon your blog while looking for advice on confronting a big scary decision and i like your writing. you begged for insight, so i'll tell you a little about my relationship with art.

i'm an artist, currently in school to become an art teacher. as such, i'm constantly being confronted with very real questions about the entire institution of art-- can anybody be an artist? is art ever wrong or bad? is it something you can even teach at all? the answers to these and, truthfully, most spiritual and personal dilemmas are usually found during intense introspection, or at least that's the case for myself.

that said, during hard times my relationship with art is most definitely affected. depending on the nature of the current crisis it is either a change for the better or for the worse. i've found that illustration is very involved. my drawings are like fossils that i have to painstakingly extract from the recesses of my brain. they are often inexplicable both to my audience and even to myself. i'm often asked "what were you thinking when you made this piece?" and my answer is usually that i don't really know. my best answer is that my drawings and doodles are essentially excerpts from my diary, snapshots of thoughts which remain submerged in the routine of daily life. displaying my art is therefore highly emotional.

because these drawings are expressions of desires or fears which i may not have resolved within myself, during times of relationship woes or intense emotions of any sort they tend to be very dark. during one particularly bad breakup i began to draw incessantly. it was therapeutic to get those negative feelings and fears out of my head, and it was also cathartic to show those pieces to others and watch their disturbed reactions. why? because it meant that those really ARE disturbing images, and that means i really AM going through something which other people would be upset by. make any sense?

recently the real world caught up with me. bills, work, school, the whole shebang needs constant attention and at the end of the day it's the most i can do to take a shower and clean my room. during times of stress of any sort (especially financial) i've found that my creativity is severely hindered. it's as if i can't reach that part of my brain because there's so much to think about.

one form of art, however, which is always enjoyable is photography. if you put me in a room with a camera, any room, i will take pictures. seeing my personal perception of an object or space is fulfilling. there's a bit of "see? that's how the world looks to me" which makes me feel as though i am connecting with it. the instant satisfaction of digital photography makes impromptu photoshoots extremely calming for me and stress never seems to affect my ability to shoot.

this is a very long response, i know, but what can i say? i'm an artist, we have an addiction to expression.

i like what you're doing, keep it up!

Tiffany Hamburger said...

Thanks, isadora, for your comment. I really appreciate what you had to say, and the time you took. :-)