"X" Marks the Understanding

“I didn’t come down here to change any of y’alls minds about anything; I come down here to ease my own mind about everything.  It works every time.” – Todd Snider

Todd Snider has a point that he makes repeatedly in his new book, “I Never Met a Story I Didn’t Like: Mostly True Tall Tales”.  The point is that a good song writer writes their songs and their stories for themselves, not for the audience.  They write the songs as a cathartic act, an act of breaking themselves open to draw out the poison and whatever else may be in there. 

                I feel like his point applies not only to song writers but to artists of any type really.  To make art, the best art, you have to delve in to yourself.  Your soul is your paintbrush and the world is your canvas.  The best art is made from raw emotion.  It isn’t made with the audience in mind; it’s done for the sake of the artist and no one else.  It’s an act that is private and meant to be whispered in the dark.

                At least, at the point of creation, that’s what it is.  But the catharsis wouldn’t be complete if the artist didn’t then share that private, secret piece of his/her soul.  While art is meant to be created in private, it’s also meant to be shared with the world at large.  By doing this, the artist can find at least a moment’s peace; a respite from the voices in their head or the emotions stampeding through their heart. 

                I believe that what we’re all ultimately looking for is for someone who can understand us.  Perhaps that is even more true for artists.  We can’t comprehend the emotions inside us or the complex thoughts spinning through our imaginations, and so we ask for help to understand them.  Maybe if I can get this thought on paper or find just the right brushstroke to convey this feeling, then maybe someone out there will understand what it is that I feel.  If they can understand what I feel, then maybe they’ll be able to understand me as well. 

                We’re all seeking that companionship.  The world that we live in can be a scary place, but the worlds that live inside us can be a thousand times more confusing and frightening.  At times we feel things so strongly that we think our hearts may burst out of our chests, then at other times we want nothing more than to collapse in on ourselves, as if there were a blackhole inside us, pulling everything inward. 

These feelings and these thoughts can be terrifying.  Our feeling can overpower us, and in our inability to understand our own souls, we desperately search for those out there that may be able to understand us better than we understand ourselves.  All art is born out of confusion and a need for understanding.  We put our questions down in song, in writing, in pictures or sculptures.  We hold our art out in front of us like a Help Wanted sign, hoping that someone will be able to save us. 

It’s a compulsion, this need to be understood and to understand.  Some lucky few find that person that can understand them; sometimes that person is their friend, maybe family, perhaps a lover (hopefully not all three).  But from what I’ve seen, most people never quite find that level of understanding that they’re seeking.  They may get close, but it always manages to stay just slightly out of reach. 

I mention all of this for a reason.  I’ve been writing a lot lately.  Most of it is incomplete, fragmented thoughts and emotions jotted down, scrawled on the back of a receipt stuffed in my pocket or typed on five pages only to be buried beneath dozens of other incomplete thoughts.  Yet I still find myself writing them.  The problem is, that I’m afraid.  I’m afraid to share the most personal thoughts in my head.

I’m not sure why.  There isn’t anything particularly scary about them, it’s just that they’re so deeply personal and so immensely confusing.  I don’t understand them, yet I feel like I should.  I don’t like that sense of bewilderment that comes with them.  I know that I need to get the thoughts out there, in to the world so that maybe someone can understand.  But that means giving up control, and that is not my strong suit. 

That being said, I am going to make an effort to post some of my more personal work.  I certainly wouldn’t call any of it art just yet, but maybe someday, if I break down my own resolve enough, maybe someday someone will consider it as such. 

It’s hard to relinquish that control, to admit that I couldn’t find the answers by myself.  But maybe that’s what art really is, the act of breaking open your heart again and again, just to show the world what’s inside.  So, be prepared, I’m going to be trying something new here, after all, what have I got to lose?

“If everything goes particularly well this evening, we can all expect a ninety minute distraction from our impending doom.” – Todd Snider

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