Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time. The mind that responds to the intellectual and spiritual values that lie hidden in a poem, a painting, or a piece of music, discovers a spiritual vitality that lifts it above itself, takes it out of itself, and makes it present to itself on a level of being that it did not know it could ever achieve.
Following up on Friday’s blog post, I’ve always felt compelled to express myself in some sort of creative way. I don’t consider myself talented as a visual artist — far from it — but there is definitely something therapeutic about the creative process. And there’s something to be said about losing yourself in a great book, an exceptional movie, or a stunning painting. Thomas Merton certainly understood this.
Curiously enough, I was first introduced to the American Trappist monk by way of my daughter’s preschool. At the parents’ meeting one evening, the teachers presented what the kids had been doing in class. They’d been using and studying sunflowers as a point of inspiration for their artwork. Even at such a young age, maybe especially at such a young age, the children can so freely explore their own creative expression and how they choose to perceive the world around them.
They don’t obsess over perfection. They don’t get caught up in creating completely accurate representations of the sunflowers before them. With their art, they both find themselves and lose themselves. As we all should.
He wrote more than 70 books, perhaps the best known of which is The Seven Storey Mountain, his autobiography originally published in 1948. But also among his writing were books on Taoism and Zen Buddhism. We can all learn from one another and from our unique perspectives on the world around us (and beyond us).
Maybe some of the greatest art comes from a place of pain, but it can also come from a place of peace. Art is a reflection of the artist, to be sure, but it is also a reflection of the person receiving the art. I don’t know much of anything about art theory or art history, but I appreciate it. And I can find a piece of myself in it. I can get lost in it.
There is no activity more uniquely human than artistic and creative expression. As Robin Williams so famously said in Dead Poets Society, “Medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for.”
We can come alive through our art and through our stories. They’re more than just a diversion; they’re what make us who we truly are… if we can find it.