Friday, February 3, 2012


In school we get asked a couple billion questions. This was one of them. As you can see, sometimes I get bored in school:

‘What is the purpose of suffering?  Is art transformative or palliative in the face of suffering?’
            Friedrich Nietzsche said, “To live is to suffer; to survive is to find some meaning in the suffering.”  I believe that being alive and undergoing suffering are two pretty close bed-fellows, but lose the big trophy when it comes to 3rd grade “Twin Day” (I remember this if you do).  The two, life and suffering,  just aren’t synonymous.  I personally believe that I was not born to only and mainly suffer.   I do not live my life as if this time alive is just a gigantic Band-Aid that I have to slowly and painstakingly remove.  I certainly do not plan on dying in any sufferable way, most certainly not in anguish (not that I can tell the future, only that I do not think plans on dying whilst suffering, or in any particular way for that matter… unless, of course, they’re part of a suicide cult, special friends with Dr. Kevorkian, or seriously need to think about changing the pathway of their downward spiral).  For me, life was created to find joy, and to take my scraps, bumps, and bruises, maybe not happily, but at least with the knowledge that suffering was put in my way for a reason: to help me recognize joy.
I know that I was born to really live my life. Live, as in live-live, the type of living I have felt when running out-of-control-fast down a hill, when I am on stage performing for the up-turned faces of a enraptured audience, when I am breathing in deep the cold air that ices my nose as I glide up the ski lift, and when I have whole-heartedly fallen in love (every single g.d. time I’ve done it).  To me, suffering is an afterthought.  It is something I have endured, but am not at the moment involved with on a large scale.  Unless I am currently wrapped up in the throes of suffering (feeling: agony, torment, torture, pain, or distress in any way that would lead to A.  sighing with gusto, B. intensive and angst-ridden journal writing, C. about a billion used Kleenex acting like my new, thought slightly sticky, carpet, D. worst case scenario: full emotional breakdown requiring healthy amount of medication and an unhealthy dosage of chocolate), I take suffering in stride, thinking of it only in passing, like an old friend who’s last name escapes me.  But I know that it is there, and when I next experience something hard I know that I can choose how it will affect me.  The author Chuck Palahniuk said it best: “I just don't want to die without a few scars.”  To me, Palhnuik has recognized the need to go through the refinery fires, to be burnt and ruined, only to come out of it changed into what you hope is a wiser, smarter, and more understanding individual.  Will your scars, your suffering, refine you and shine you into a more beautiful person, and help you recognize true joy and life, or will suffering it take its toll and drag you down to its murky depths to chain you in your personal hell?
In the face of suffering, is art transformative or palliative?  Do I create art in the wake of my suffering to change the emotion or do I do this to calm me?  Or does the very viewing, listening, and/or overall partaking of art change or salve my emotion?  I have had a few experiences when I have been listening to music, and there it is, right on the tip of my eardrums, a song, a verse, a chord that will rip through me and define the exact emotion that I am feeling at that moment.  In those instances I have felt relief, as if now I know for certain that some has felt what I feel, like someone out there knows. I feel this validation, I can savor it and more clearly define it through that song, and in a way it helps me feel better.  These instances are a lucky few, and I am bound to treasure them and remember them, but I can and do find it in similar ways through my overall partaking of the arts, though perhaps to a lessened degree.  Seeing other’s renditions of emotions, in particular the more deep and passionate emotions, helps me make connections to others, and round out my overall understanding of human nature.  Art is both transformative and palliative. Whether you are creating art or surrounding yourself with art, it has the capacity to both soothe you, and change you.  The emotion, whether it is sorrow or other, can be morphed by the aesthetic experience, shedding light where light was dim, and throw shades over the parts you don’t need any longer.  A human needs art to understand the depth of other’s humanity, to more clearly define their knowledge of human emotion.  You need art to humanize yourself.

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