2016 has been a year of many changes, many challenges, and some difficult circumstances for me. The most recent of these challenges arose a few weeks ago, when I was diagnosed with chronic myelogenous leukemia. As I’ve begun road toward recovery and remission, I’ve had time to reflect on the qualities that have been and will continue to be necessary to fight this battle, and I can honestly attribute so many of these qualities to my participation in the arts. I believe these lessons hold true for all of us, in challenges big and small. More than being valuable content for our students, the arts shape minds and hearts. Today, I’d like to share some of what I think are the most valuable life lessons the arts teach us.
There is no such thing as a perfect work of art. In any composition or performance, there is always room for growth, for feedback, for refinement. In any work of art, there are opportunities to enjoy the process, moments to be celebrated, and milestones to achieve, but we never truly “arrive” at perfection. This same growth mindset, this same idea of always being “a work in progress,” can guide us similarly through life. There will never be a moment when we truly arrive. All we can do is use the skills and talents we’ve been given, enjoy the process, and strive to do better. There will be moments of weakness, mistakes made, and challenges to endure, but there will also be beauty embedded into the tapestry of these events, if we choose to see it.
Artists know rejection and hardship. Whether its a botched audition, a poor performance, or a lukewarm reception to a work of art, artists must develop the ability to rise above. Fall down seven times, get up eight. As a performer, I’ve been to many auditions that resulted in a rejection email. This isn’t to say that I don’t have talent, but sometimes there are circumstances much greater than simply what I bring to the table. There are days when I’m not at my best. There are differences in opinions, in aesthetics, in visions. And over years of participating in the arts, over years of rejection emails and calls, I’ve learned to rise back up after each disappointment. There are valuable lessons to be learned in rejection and “failure” (for lack of a better word), and if we choose to allow these experiences to grow us, we rise up stronger.
There is beauty everywhere
The arts are aesthetic in their very nature. Artists have an ability to create something beautiful, whether it be with a pencil or brush, in song, in spoken word, or in dance. They start with nothing but tools, with notes on a page, with words in a book, and they craft a work, and experience that is beautiful and has meaning. In life, we are given a blank canvas. We may be given different tools, and the rules may change along the way, but it is up to us to create something meaningful and beautiful from the tools we’ve been given. It might be in experiences we manifest for ourselves, or it might be simply in choosing to recognize what is right in front of us.
Community is key
As someone who was painfully shy going through school, the arts were where I found my community. The ensemble nature of music and theatre (which were my art forms of choice), as well as the mindset that so many artists share binds its members into community. As a member of an ensemble, you know that the work will reflect the mindset of the community performing a work of art, so you rally together for the sake of the work. In life, you find your “ensemble,” your community, those who share your mindset, and you rally together, you fortify one another, you pick each other up when you stumble and celebrate success together. And there is such beauty in that.
The arts heal.
Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe said, “There is no better deliverance from the world than through art; and a man can form no surer bond with it than through art.” In my road to remission, the arts have been my outlet. When I need to cry, music accompanies me. When I need distraction, I take out my coloring book. When I need stimulation and mental engagement, I watch PBS’s Hamilton’s America documentary for the tenth time. And each one of these acts heals me and gives me what I need in that moment.
The arts are so much more than an elective, a “special,” an extracurricular activity. The arts provide us with tools to survive and thrive.