Wednesday, April 27, 2016

The Death of Artists

Time. You know?

December 31 and January 1 touch each other, yet we start over measuring time on January 1, and then lump it in with all of the following 364 (or 365) days, and judge it as one good or bad year.

So far, I'm hearing that 2016 sucks.

David Bowie died. I reeled from the shock.

Then Alan Rickman, and I cried.

And Doris Roberts. I was sad.

Last week, Prince. I wore purple for three days straight. I painted my toenails with paisleys. I wrote "Rest in Purple" on my arm.

Did you think I was kidding?

And I, like so many others, thought, "Why? Why so many artists who made our lives so much more enjoyable, who taught us so much - why so many, seemingly all at once?"

I don't follow celebrity gossip. I refuse to click the star bait, on principle. They're just people, for crying out loud. Their jobs happen to make them very well-known, but they don't deserve to be pestered like they are.

But these artists - they're important to us. For whatever reason, they insinuate themselves into our lives, and inspire us.

Maybe we want to emulate them. Because, somehow, by being a famous artist, they're cooler than we are. Maybe emulating them is one of the ways we learn who we really are, by trying on others' outrageous hats, and through that, slowly discovering what works best on us.

Maybe we like the escapism, and are grateful for them to create a world in which we're happy to get away from ourselves.

Maybe we just want to feel. That's what artists do best. By exposing their truth, they move us. Maybe we need their art to get through a tough time. Maybe it reminds us of what's important in the world. Maybe they make us want to dance, laugh, think, cry, howl at the moon, have sex, relax, smile, reach out to someone, get off our collective asses and do what we've been dreaming about.

So it hurts when they're gone. Partly because we never knew them, though it seemed like we did. It seemed like, through their work, they let us read their diaries. They played a big-enough role in our lives that, somehow, we should have known them.

And I caught myself thinking that 2016 sucks. Look at all the brilliant artists we've lost already, and it's only April. Next year's Oscars will cut out all acceptance speeches just to make time for the "In Memorial" segment.

In a whirl of trying to find something positive to hold onto, I thought, "What's the opposite of an artist's death?"

An artist's birth.

The first time I ever babysat a real baby (as in, not just a child), I think I was twelve. Maybe thirteen, who knows. I do remember watching this infant, just a few months old, and starting to cry because I realized that everything that was happening to him, he was logging somewhere, and creating his story of the world. I remember realizing that his brain was literally forming, and that weirdly, distantly, in a way he'd never remember, and that I'd never know how, I was helping to create the world he was experiencing. And I felt a tremendous sense of responsibility about that. If I was part of forming his world, I'd do my best to make that small part loving and fun and accepting.

We don't know which of the babies will grow to be our next Great Artist - the one who will inspire another generation to do more, feel deeper, and create new. They've already been born. You may already know them. They might live in your house, even. Or down the street. You may stand behind them in line at the grocery store. Maybe they'll catch you singing at the top of your lungs in the car, when you think no one is watching. Maybe you'll ask them about their favorite book, as they wait, with their parent, at the oil-change place. Maybe you'll see them pretending to be a frog in the middle of the department-store aisle, and maybe you'll tell them how cool frogs are.

Maybe they won't be an artist at all. Maybe, a scientist. Maybe the President. Maybe an inventor.

Maybe a teacher.

It's funny how thoughts and memories and connections all pile up and slam into you in a single moment, then you try to tell someone - or blog it - and it seems so long and tedious, but the thought, "an artist's birth" and the realization that I am an arts educator collided in a big beautiful emotional explosion.

And I feel a tremendous sense of responsibility about that.