Hello and good day!
I listened to a fascinating lecture over the weekend.
The topic was negro spirituals. The speaker spent a fair amount of time talking about something that has been on my mind a lot lately. Negro spirituals arose as a way for slaves to endure through what felt like unendurable suffering.
This appears to be the natural order of things as it pertains to art. Art exists to help us carry on with our lives.
I first became aware of this concept when I read the excellent book On Writing by Stephen King. The context of the discussion was why King loves to write. The two opposing viewpoints he proposes are whether art exists as mere entertainment or whether it should be considered as something more profound. King's position was that art runs much deeper than being a cheap way to fill up empty hours.
As such, when attempting art, for example when writing a novel, the author should attempt to pour their heart and soul into the creation. Hence the book, On Writing, in which King presents the tools of the trade so that aspiring writers can do their work competently.
I recently re-read another wonderful book, Linchpin, by Seth Godin. The main thesis of his book is that anything can be art.
Customer service can be art.
Making great products can be art.
Parenting can be art.
Building a deck can certainly be art.
Sports can be art, even a pickup basketball game.
Conversating can be art.
Music might not be art.
Likewise with painting and writing.
In Godin's view, the defining characteristic of true art is intention. A very skilled singer might slide by with a halfhearted performance, skating through on experience and reputation. She might even fool the crowd, but she can't fool herself.
Slaves singing on a cotton plantation weren't wailing out their sorrows for an audience. They sang for themselves, trying to fortify their spirits so they could live to see another day.
This is the purest form of artistic expression.
When modern singers sing those spirituals, they owe it to the songs to sing their hearts out. That was the lecturer's point of view, and it coincides nicely with this train of thought.
We went to a Vietnamese restaurant over the weekend. It is a hole in the wall local place with very good food. At least that is my opinion. We came during their Friday night rush after closing our chocolate shop. There was only a single person working the front of the house, doing triple duty as waitress, busser, and cashier.
If I'm ever in the mood to eat Vietnamese, I always go to this place and I always see this same woman working there. I think she is in her mid-forties, long black hair, glasses, thin, Asian. Whether it is empty or full, she always has the same bubbly service-oriented attitude. You just feel right at home when she seats you and takes your order.
It's hard to put my finger on it exactly. I think she really likes her job. She likes to be serving good food. She believes in the product and likes people, and she smiles so authentically. Not a big smile. A real smile.
On Friday night, the place was jammed. All of us customers were sitting at tables waiting for her to come over and take our order. Meanwhile, new people were flooding in, and she was seating them graciously. It was incredible how she was just sort of floating around doing everything very well.
She wasn't stressed or agitated.
She wasn't hurrying.
As she wiped down one table and carried plates back to the kitchen, she asked every table on the way how the food was and if anybody needed anything else.
She emerged from the kitchen with fresh food.
She set it nicely on a table and as soon as she was done serving, she was at the next table with her notepad in hand taking an order.
At the kitchen she yelled the orders to the cook and then swung around to the credit card machine to process payments.
Back to the tables she went with pens and bills and then she bussed and brought out food and took more orders.
I looked around to see if anybody else was watching the show.
It was a work of art.
Indeed, I saw several other people staring in awe. I made eye contact with a few of the other customers who were watching, and we nodded and shook our heads almost dumb struck.
Its apples and oranges, but for my money, if you take a person doing that kind of good work and put her up against a great singer who is mailing it in, I think the waitress is practicing a truer form of art.
I don't say that to be pithy.
I mean it.
Millions of people consumed shallow and meaningless content all day long last Friday, while only dozens saw the tremendous effort of a worker in a small Vietnamese restaurant on Friday night.
But for those of us who saw it, it meant something.
It wasn't something you just scroll over.
It was something that reminds you that there are good people in the world, hardworking people who care, and you ought to do your best to be counted among them.
Likewise, when you hear an old negro spiritual sung passionately, it makes your heart race, and your nerves stand on end.
It compels you to live right, to not perpetuate evils of the past.
If art supports life, and if art can be just about anything done with proper intention, then logically, almost any act can be done in such a way that it lifts the human spirit, even seemingly very mundane things.
I believe that this is one of the most empowering trains of thought a person can ride on.
And the best part is that it isn't just a thought. It's true and works in real life.
I hope that you will create some art today.
Thank you so much for your time today.
I hope that you have a truly blessed day!