The Power of Art
Finding Ourselves and Losing Ourselves
Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time.
The power of art is the power to wake us up, strike us to our depths, change us. What are we searching for when we read a novel, see a film, listen to a piece of music? We are searching for something that alters us, that we weren’t aware of before. We want to transform ourselves, just as work of my favourite writers transformed me. Books are my private means to overcome reality. They are reliable, warm, and always available.
It’s great to be aware that those pieces exist. For me it is wonderful to know that books such as those by Patti Smith, Knausgaard or Murakami are here, that I can read them many times, that I can read them always.
What is a work of art if not the gaze of another person? Not directed above us, nor beneath us, but at the same weight as our own gaze. Art cannot be experienced collectively, nothing can, art is something you are alone with. You meet its gaze alone.
Why do I write myself then? To investigate the mystery of existence. To tolerate myself. To get closer to everything that is outside of me. If I want to understand what moves me, what confuses me, what pains me — everything that makes me react, in short — I have to put it into words. Writing is my only way of absorbing and organizing life. Otherwise it would terrify me.
Ever since I started writing, I’ve belonged only to my words. I don’t feel like I really belong somewhere, I don’t have a specific culture. If I didn’t write, I wouldn’t feel present on the earth.
Writing is, in the end, that oddest of anomalies: an intimate letter to a stranger.
The Awareness of Impossibility
The awareness of impossibility is central to the creative impulse. In the face of everything that seems to me unattainable, I marvel. Without a sense of marvel at things, without wonder, one can’t create anything.
And although art is not an answer to all the questions we carry inside, it might help to answer at least some. When we feel anxious, when we freeze and start fearing that we might do something that won’t be perfect, it is always there to remind us that it is alright to be imperfect and to make mistakes. And now that you don’t need to be perfect, you can be good.
If you are making mistakes and creating imperfect outcomes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, pushing yourself, changing the world. You’re doing things you have never done before and most importantly, you’re doing something different. Although you feel anxious, keep making new mistakes. Make fascinating, amazing mistakes. Don’t let your anxiety freeze you. Don’t stop, don’t worry that it isn’t good enough, or it isn’t perfect, whatever it is: art, or love, or work, or family, or just life.
There are so many things that art can’t do. It can’t bring the dead back to life, it can’t mend arguments between friends, or halt the pace of climate change. All the same, it does have some extraordinary functions, some odd negotiating ability between people, including people who never meet and yet who infiltrate each other’s lives. It does have a capacity to create intimacy; it does have a way of healing wounds, and better yet of making it apparent that not all wounds need healing and not all scars are ugly.