“Creating a life that reflects your values and satisfies your soul is a rare achievement. In a culture that relentlessly promotes avarice and excess, a person happy doing their own work is usually considered eccentric, if not subversive. Cultivate resources within yourself that bring you happiness outside of what others define as success and failure. To invent your own life’s meaning is not easy, but I think you’ll be happier for the trouble.”
– Bill Watterson (creator of the comic strip, Calvin and Hobbes)
Artists are not here to disturb the peace. Quite to the contrary, artists are here to point the way to something better, something higher. Artists are here to illuminate universal goodness, beauty, and truth. Artists are here to connect our minds and spirits by shining a light on shared human values, virtues, and meaning. To put it most succinctly, artists are here to elevate consciousness. And this, it seems to me, is quite the opposite of “disturbing the peace.”
It’s true, sometimes the expansion of consciousness can be disorienting in its exhilaration. It can have the side effect of shaking up the status quo, of waking us up from the hypnosis of complacency. But this is not the primary goal of art. It is not even its primary side effect. And if we mistake this secondary side effect for the actual purpose of art, we will miss it entirely. If we proceed under this misapprehension – especially if artists themselves engage in this folly – we will miss out on one of the most sacred and pure paths to enlightenment and enrichment that we, as humans, have available to us.
Other potential sources have failed us in this pursuit, time and time again. Religion, politics, media, education – each have failed us disastrously in this measure, at some point or another, often in what seems to be nothing less than orchestrated concert. And when we find ourselves in this state of affairs, art remains the last and best refuge of enlightenment. And when artists fail to live up to this ideal – when they fail to even recognize it – society suffers greatly.
“Humanistic scholars and artists used to be, and were supposed to be, as a group, carriers of and teachers of the eternal verities and the higher life. The goal of humanistic studies was… to inspire the student to the better life, to the higher life, to goodness and virtue. But in recent years and to this day, most humanistic scholars and artists have shared in the general collapse of all traditional values. And when these values collapse, there are no others readily available as replacements.”
“The sensation of ‘I’ as a lonely and isolated center of being is so powerful and common-sensical, and so fundamental to our modes of speech and thought… that we cannot help but experience selfhood except as something superficial in the scheme of the universe. I seem to be a brief light that flashes but once in all the aeons of time – a rare, complicated, and all-too-delicate organism on the fringe of biological evolution, where the wave of life bursts into individual, sparkling, and multi-colored drops that gleam for a moment only to vanish forever. Under such conditioning, it seems impossible and even absurd to realize that my ‘self’ does not reside in the drop alone, but in the whole surge of energy which ranges from the galaxies to the nuclear fields in my body. At this level of existence… my forms are infinite, and their comings and goings are simply the pulses or vibrations of a single and eternal flow of energy.”
“In dwelling, live close to the ground. In thinking, keep to the simple. In conflict, be fair and generous. In governing, don’t try to control. In work, do what you love. In family life, be completely present.”