Art as a Tool for Self-Exploration
I can only speak from my own experience. There was a day, years ago, when I was alone in my apartment and I was sitting there in a state of existential dread – static, doing nothing. For one, I didn’t know what I should be doing. I had recently finished college, got my bachelor degree, moved to Colorado, got married… now what? Why was music in my life? What was I supposed to do with it? There had to be some PRACTICAL use for music in order for me to keep it in my life. I had an interview with a music publishing company, but when I saw the cubicles I’d be sitting in for 60 plus hours a week that same existential dread that I was feeling now crept up on me. And yet, if I look back on that experience, the answer was there – right from my own mouth. The Vice President of the company spoke with me privately after the interview and asked about my time in college, books I liked to read, etc. I told him now that I was out of school I looked forward to reading all the books that I had been interested in while enrolled, but did not have time to read due to the workload I was balancing. I wanted to explore!
So that day of dread in Colorado Springs turned into something interesting. I sat at the piano and turned on the recorder. I sat for a few minutes, – no rush – closed my eyes and just played. It didn’t matter what it sounded like. I made no judgments or assumptions. There was no “right” or “wrong.” No criticism whatsoever. After I felt like I had played enough, I stopped. I turned the recorder off and I put it away.
The next day I did the same thing – sat, stilled my thoughts, turned the recorder on and played. I did this for about a week, saving each recording. Then I took a break from recording and started practicing some other music. One week after those recording sessions I went back to listen to what I had played. It was astounding how clearly I could articulate in music the issues with which I was struggling! Don’t get me wrong, these were not finished products, these recordings, – very rough around the edges. But the voice was there – the AUTHENTICITY was there! What I struggled to understand inside my head was made so much clearer by putting it out in the world were I could look at it objectively. That was the start of a beautiful new way of making music for me. Instead of basing my music on controlling every minute detail of the music (my piece “Letter No. 1”), I would now base it on surrendering to exploration of self. Of course all the analytical stuff (judgment, criticism, control) comes back in afterwards when I work on developing the piece, but the voice – the thread that runs through each of the recordings in a week long session – is never compromised. Authenticity is the only rule.
So why am I sharing this with everyone? Because this exercise can be done (and should be done) by everyone! You may need a more experienced artist to assist you in navigating the art, or you may be confident enough navigating your own way. All situations are valid. There is no wrong way. I see in my children, how they freely sing about EVERYTHING, how my brothers sing daily (even about mundane chores). My eldest son makes the most beautiful abstract paintings at preschool – and the say so MUCH about who he is…
And that is the point: Art is a wonderful tool for self exploration.
In my experience, it can be very difficult to find fulfillment in life if you aren’t constantly exploring who you are.