“To be an artist goes beyond usefulness; it is essential to the very nature of our humanity. “
I am going to go ahead and make an assumption about NBC’s (and our cultural) definition of “useful”. It’s based on capitalist dogma. It’s based on social constructs that we created, and rests solely on paradigms that don’t exist beyond our own willingness to believe in them. Our economic and cultural structures seem so concrete that it’s easy to forget that we created them, that without us, they do not exist.
My definition of “useful” doesn’t reside in a construct or a chosen paradigm. It resides in the reality of the human heart, mind and spirit. It pertains to what makes us human. To be human is not to make money. To be human is to create. To be human is to think, question, feel, imagine. These are our defining characteristics. To be human is to be fully and unruly alive.
To say artistic degrees are useless is an archaic and false narrative but it’s also painful. It’s a narrative I’ve spent my whole life fighting. When I got my BFA and MFA in Performance I was endlessly bombarded with, “What are you going to do with that? How are you going to make money?” This cultural perspective that my passion, my gifts are useless and unwanted were so proliferated that for a while I began to believe it myself. Unconsciously I began undervaluing my work and who I am. While I was trying to convince others that my work, that I, have meaning and purpose, underneath it all I was struggling to believe in it myself.
But when I look at the problems we face its clear that this narrative just isn’t true. We are living in a world suffering from a lack of humanity. Basic human qualities such as empathy and compassion are undervalued and diminished. To feel and think deeply is viewed as a weakness. To try to see and feel from another person’s perspective, irrelevant. We are under practiced and uneducated in the very things that make us human. To be right, to be the best, to be successful, this is what we are taught.
Currently I am working as a performing artist by helping to train law enforcement, medical practitioners and educators in Crisis Intervention Training. I portray people going through mental health crisis, trauma or life crisis and role-play with officers, EMTs and students. The goal is to help the participants develop emotional intelligence, compassion, empathy, communication and de-escalation skills so that they can better serve their communities. The work is incredibly powerful and serves as a reminder. That my artistic training is not only helpful to me in my everyday life, it also serves the community as a whole.
What humans need more than ever is to embrace our humanity, to embrace our tremendous capacity to feel, our ability to imagine and create new possibilities, to cultivate our connective and collaborative power. We cannot solve the problems of climate change, racism, sexism, bigotry, poverty, violence and hatred with the same minds that created them. To solve the problems of our world we need artistic, creative and collaborative vision to see what is possible, what can we become.
To be an artist is to help a world turning numb come alive with feeling once again. It is to envision new possibilities and solutions to the world’s greatest problems. It is to spread empathy, compassion and connection in the face of disconnection and discrimination. To be an artist goes beyond usefulness; it is essential to the very nature of our humanity.