The Connective Tissue of Art

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Photo by Magnus Lindvall on Unsplash

Tonight, my friend Emily showed me the series of paintings she's been working on this summer -- all impressions of movement, reflection, shadow. A cloudy lavender sunset. The gentle play of rippling shadows on a stone wall, or amongst eager shoots of grass. Twinkling sunlight filtering through rustling leaves. She explained that the cornerstone for her series is a favorite quote from Mary Oliver: "My work, which is mostly standing still and learning to be astonished."

"But, I don't know," she said, putting her phone back in her bag. "I still feel like I'm not doing anything important."

I get where she's coming from. Both creative types (Emily is getting her MFA in painting and I have my words), we've expressed a mutual fear that we're just not doing important work. Physicians? They do important work. People who work for nonprofits with noble mission statements? They're doing important work. My college friend who is volunteering with the Peace Corps? She's doing important work. Another college friend who is earning her Ph.D. in biochemistry and is (I feel certain) going to find the cure for cancer one day? She's doing important work.

So many people setting the world ablaze in ways that excite and inspire me. It's easy for me to affirm their work and question the value of creativity, which can feel self-indulgent and not as earth-shattering.

And yet, still reeling from the beauty of the works Emily shared with me and the profound implications of learning to stand still and view the world through new, ever-astonished eyes, I said, "You are doing something important. What you just showed me changed my heart. It changed the way I want to engage with the world. And that's pretty amazing."

She nodded. "I think all art is like that," she acknowledged, leaning back on her hands. "Connective tissue."

Let's just say it's been a while since I've taken my last science class, so I needed to refresh my memory on what, exactly, connective tissue is. The good news is that it's pretty self-explanatory: the first Google result that came up defined it as "tissue that connects, supports [and] binds... other tissues or organs..."

Tissue that connects, supports, and binds.

I'm thinking now of a line from the opening number at this year's Tony awards that has stuck with me since hearing it for the first time. In referring to all of the nominees who would walk home empty-handed -- and heck, everyone in theatre who never even garners that honor -- Josh Groban, Sara Bareilles, and ensemble members from each of this year's nominees for best musical sang, "If you make art at all, you're part of the cure."

We live in a world that is fractured in so many ways. And art -- in all of its manifestations -- helps bring us together. Whether it's the art of fine cuisine and a shared meal together; the art of a good conversation; the art of a quality piece of literature, poetry, film, music, theatre, or dance; the breathtaking visual art produced by a professional or the fingerpainting at the eager hands of a five-year-old... art is connective, supportive, binding.

So go make art today, friend. Take photos. Sing into your hairbrush. Dance along to your current favorite song. Learn calligraphy. Sketch the tree outside your window. Write a poem. Write a story. And please, for the sake of the original Artist, our loving Creator, whose work we share in every time we do something creative, don't worry about making it perfect.

Create. Share. Connect.

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