Do we need art in hard times?

When there are hard times in the world—violence, war, destruction of the earth, suffering—it is easy for some of us to spiral into doubt about the value of our art and art-making.


photo by Aaron Burden

Shouldn’t I be doing something more important to help?

Shouldn’t I at least be preoccupied with keeping up with current events and thinking about them and not with my creative projects? Am I being selfish or sticking my head in the sand?

Do my little poems, paintings, dances, collages. . . make a difference? Do they make enough of a difference?

…and other such thoughts.

I want to share a couple of stories with you.

When the planes struck the twin towers on 9/11 and my friend called to tell me about it, the first thought I had after I hung up the phone was Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,/ The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere/ The ceremony of innocence is drowned…”

These are lines from Yeats’ famous poem “The Second Coming.” In a moment of complete darkness, pain and chaos in our world, the first thing my mind turned to was poetry, lines from a poem I long ago memorized that could help me relate to what was happening and to feel a kinship with others who had weathered such times before. When I realized that fact I felt a powerful surge of emotion and appreciation for the value and importance of art. I felt sure that we need to go on creating in the face of these acts of violence.

That weekend I had tickets to the Celtic Festival here in town. I remember that Festival vividly, more than any other year I have attended.

None of the major artists from around the globe who were scheduled to play could come because no planes were flying. Only the local artists could be there. Fortuitously, we happen to have one of the world’s leading Celtic fiddlers living in our town, Alasdair Fraser. And though he was scheduled to be performing in Europe during the Festival, he couldn’t fly either, so he headlined the Festival that weekend.

pines_Jordan Sanchez

photo by Jordan Sanchez

I went to the Festival, unsure I should be there in the face of such tragedies. I wandered around the fairgrounds in a dull haze of pain and confusion, along with the others who attended. As I saw friends I knew and we shared our pain and listened to the music and spent the day under the great pines, a healing was happening, unmistakably.

When Alasdair Fraser took the main stage that night, he came on playing a blazing upbeat reel that had all the numbed audience rising to our feet and clapping. Then he announced, “We are here to celebrate Life!” Tears poured down my cheeks, as the joy and defiance and beauty of his offering flowed from his presence, his heart and his violin. The concert he gave that night was extraordinary, and the experience of being there as part of it was a deeply transformative one. Music and art have the power to heal, the power to be one of the boldest declarations of the beauty, power and love that the human spirit contains. Never doubt for a moment if art matters in dark times. Without it, we would be hard pressed to survive.

Please know that making art and doing good in the world are not mutually exclusive. First of all, making art can be a potent form of doing good in the world in many ways:

  1. photo by Derek Truninger

    photo by Derek Truninger

    The art itself can make a difference, as I shared above.

  2. The creative act is the opposite of the destructive act, and that in itself is a powerful choice, every time you make it. Choosing to engage in creative play and not in fear, hate, worry, and other destructive activities makes a difference in our world.
  3. The person you are being when you make time for your creativity and doing what lights you up is the kind of person we need more of in our world. The way that regularly engaging in creativity in healthy, joyful ways changes you for the better—changes the way you are in all of your relationships and all of your life—is reason enough to be creative.

And, that said, if you feel compelled to hop on a plane and serve food to the Syrian refugees, or to at least make a donation to help out, please do that too. Wherever you genuinely feel moved and inspired to help, please follow that impulse.

I donate 10% of my gross income (my income before taxes and expenses are deducted) to charities every year. I started this practice when I was deeply in debt and not earning enough to get by, and I’ve continued it through thick and thin. I encourage you to do the same.

And I encourage you to keep making art, being creative, expressing yourself, freeing your beautiful imagination, playing. We need that too. We really do.

♥ If you value the arts, poetry, beauty, heart…

♥ If you have received value from my writings, teachings, being…

♥ If you believe in the importance of what I offer…

I invite you to contribute to my Indiegogo campaign:

I am hoping for many, many small contributions ($10 is great!) and a few large ones, because what’s most important to me is to feel the support of many feathers in my wings, giving me flight in bringing forth a book of my poems in the world.

Visit the campaign and hear me reading my poems at a live performance!

Creative Sparks provides tools, guidance and soul inspiration about once a week to:

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