“The story tells us that living the life of an artist is not as useful as living our lives as a work of art.” ~ Martín Prechtel
An Artist’s Duty
I had a dream of a wise woman I trust and admire who was warning me that creating shifts and making changes in the culture is hard work. Slow work.
There was an ominous tone to her voice, as if to say, “Careful child. Don’t set your sights too high—you might fail.” I awoke thinking, yes. Maybe. But time moves fast and this life is just a blink, and what is it all for anyway?
And then I remembered Nina.
“An artist’s duty is to reflect the times.” ~ Nina Simone
As far as I can tell, our lives are a work of art. We come to a blank canvas and we create. We all do—whether we know it or not. Whether you think you’re an artist or not.
We all create something.
We can copy someone else’s painting, and maybe even do an excellent job of it if we’ve developed the skills. We can paint something we’ve painted a thousand times because we know it turns out alright, though it’s becoming a bit stale and we are a little bored. Or we can do something terrifying—something radical, something relevant, something personal—something where we might fail.
We can open ourselves up to that mystery that’s deep within us, and moving through us, and ask that to move our paintbrush. We can give our minds over to our hearts and dance with the spirit that’s moving through.
It’s surprising and unpredictable.
We’re surfing some kind of current not knowing exactly where it’s going but fully participating with everything we’ve got. It’s a dance—a collaborative creation. And when we’re done, we almost don’t even know what happened, but we look up and there’s a painting in front of us that’s part us and part everything there ever was and is now. We’re tired, and also deeply alive.
It is duende.
It’s personal and it’s universal too. It’s specific and it’s timeless. Eternal and brand new. Our hands did the work, but the thing is also part of something bigger and out of our control. It’s relevant and it is absolutely important in some way to the time we are in.
So, yes. Maybe creating shifts and changes in the culture is hard and slow work. I don’t know. What I do know is that it is my work to make art that reflects the times—to use my voice as an instrument, and my life as a canvas—or to die trying, even if it means I might fail along the way.
I may be awkward as I’m learning. I may be clumsy as I find my feet under me. I may offend someone as I find my voice, and I may make a painting that isn’t perfect. But that will inspire something in one who is yet to come who will create great changes in a culture that is in desperate need.
What if the true measure of success was failing so magnificently that hearts wept and wild horses ran and ideas were born like stars?
What would happen if, even for just a moment, you let it all go and gave yourself the grace to fail?
What might you create then?
“An artist’s duty is to reflect the times.”
And we are all artists.
Our walk is our paintbrush. Our lives are our canvas.