“A work of art offers a paradoxical liberation: it is something that changes everything while being perfectly useless in any ordinary sense...Art’s role in the contemporary world may well be precisely to be un-useful, to reveal the importance of uselessness in our lives. You can’t eat a painting. You can’t do anything except stand before it, know the world differently, and walk away changed. That’s what a painting can do, what a poem can do. Art halts the mind’s unthinking plummet and lets you see the experience as a new whole.”
This quote is from a lovely little book I’ve been reading during quarantine called, A God in the House: Poets Talk About Faith. The book contains 19 different interviews with various poets about their thoughts on faith, art, tradition, spirituality, or any of the other tangents that you inevitably find yourself meandering down when talking with a poet. The poets come from many different faith traditions, and I have found each reflection to be inspiring even as they veer in many different directions.
If they all hold one thing in common, however, it is their recognition that artistic expression and creativity are powerfully connected with the human soul. The power of art does not necessarily conform to the ways we typically think about power, yet beauty has the ability to move us in ways utilitarian forms of power never can. The quote above has stuck with me as we face this time where it can be so easy to feel “un-useful.” So much about our world is being revealed for what it truly is by this pandemic, and maybe it’s time to reassess what it means to be useful, how we find our meaning, our worth, and our purpose.
At the beginning of the pandemic there was a joke going around about how we should all be trying to figure out what our “King Lear” was going to be, because apparently Shakespeare wrote that play during quarantine from the plague. This was a tongue-in-cheek way of perpetuating a belief that we always need to be producing. If you want to write your own “King Lear,” great, but as for me, I’m going to allow myself to let go of that kind of pressure.
More than any specific product, I hope we can use this time of slowing down to make the world more beautiful in whatever ways we can. It just might change everything.