Artists* = eyebrows. They don’t appear to be essential to life, maybe even superfluous, right?
Wrong. Going through chemo, my eyebrows got really thin, and I missed them! Why? Sweat found its way into my eyes and I couldn’t see clearly.
These hairy things above my eyes help me see. Sometimes I like what I see, sometimes I don’t. Sometimes I understand what I see, sometimes I’m confused. Sometimes I know what I see, sometimes I learn something new. Sometimes what I see is familiar, sometimes I’m taken out of my comfort zone.
So how are artists like eyebrows? The arts help us view the world more clearly by exposing us to experiences and viewpoints outside of our own. I’m a white woman living in Wyoming. I have no idea what it is like to be a person of color living in Chicago or to be a Native American living on the Wind River Reservation in my home state. Those are not my experiences, but the arts give me insight into them. Art, literature, music, and films have revealed biases I had, and made me see the log in my own eye, to frame it Biblically.
I regularly consider my role as an artist in society, and like many other artists have been doing so even more lately. (I’ve been contemplating, writing and editing this post for a few months.) People have a variety of opinions on what artists’ roles should be, from the premise that art should be political to the premise that art should only produce representational beauty and good feelings. When it comes to art, people like what they know, while confidently stating “I know what I like,” and base their determination on artists’ roles on their own biases.
The fact is, artists are individual human beings and what we do varies vastly. We each determine what our purpose is, because being an artist doesn’t involve having a boss who tells you what to do. People may not always understand what I create, or like or understand it with a cursory glance. If you don’t get it, ask yourself why. Read statements, go to exhibits at museums, galleries, art centers, libraries, and coffee shops.
Engage in dialogue.
Over the past year, several famous creative people have died. We grieved their loss as if we knew them personally, even though we didn’t. We knew them because of the art they created. We’ll never hear new music by Prince again. Carrie Fischer won’t take us to a galaxy far, far away in a new film, or make us laugh anew with her sharp take on life.
Yeah, we miss our eyebrows when they’re gone.
*This includes all creatives: musicians, writers, actors, etc.
For further reading on the role of the artist, I recommend this thoughtful piece, a writer’s discussion with himself on his role.
Image above: detail of Frida Kahlo’s Self-portrait with monkeys, 1943.