you know that feeling of utter satisfaction you get in the pit of your stomach? the one that makes you want to lean back in a chair, drop your arms to your lap and whisper, “yes. that’s it!” they sneak up on us when we least expect them and rarely when we go searching for them. it’s the kind of feeling of being full when we did not even know we were in need of something. it falls on us and all of a sudden, things make sense. for those who answered yes, you probably know what it is like for artists everywhere who, every day, find ways to somehow make the ineffable concepts of life’s experiences into something tangible enough to touch, even if it’s just for moment. in the same light, you also know what it is like to experience art—to walk into someone’s mind and feel at home where all the furniture is to your liking and the house music is of the right tempo.
this is the power of art. it sets us, tells us that we are right where we need to be and pleads with us to stay for a while. art turns a single experience into a universal one. that’s a paraphrased version of what puerto rican poet lady lee andrews told me when i asked for her opinion. i was walking through the streets of old san juan in puerto rico last week when i came across a little shop named the poet’s passage. it’s a cute little thing that houses weekly open mic nights and displayed andrews’ poems on ceramic squares throughout the shop. i walked around reading as many as i could before realizing that i had spotted the poet in an arts and crafts shop just around the corner. i was determined to go speak with her and get her to sign something of mine, anything really. luckily, there were printed copies of her poetry collections right there in the poet’s passage so i skimmed a few before deciding which one to purchase. i knew i had found the right one when i opened it to page 2 and read the following lines:
“yes. that’s it!” the feeling i was talking about. that was the feeling i had when i first heard some of my favorite poets, or read their work in an anthology in my english classes. i made my purchase, explored the shop some more then walked back over to the shop where i saw her. we spoke for a while about some of the techniques i picked up on in some of the poems, when she started writing (like every poet, she replied “all my life”), and what she believed the power of art is as it applies to poetry. she told me that poetry made her wiser. i thought that was an interesting answer, something i had never really thought of. it made sense though. she went on to talk about her experience in school, specifically her english courses compared to her history ones, how history was all facts that were hard to connect with. on the other hand, when she read literature, whether novels or poems, she was able to learn as well as share the feelings of those she was reading about.
standing in front of her, i started smiling. i felt the same exact way. for one, history was never my favorite subject. it was easy for me to forget names, dates, and events. however, give me a poem written in the reconstruction era and i might just be able to tell you something about the time period. for andrews, it was the experience of the art form that made her wiser. i imagine it is the same for admirers of paintings. take eugene delacroix’s “liberty leading the people” for example. i am sure that reading about the revolutionary war in an american history textbook would not evoke the same feelings as looking at a symbol as monumental as delacroix’s. suddenly, the textbook becomes alive in front of your eyes and you begin picking up on things that aren’t written. this, to me, is the power of art—to be able to find and connect with what is not directly in front of us.
art does not ask us to reduce who we are in order for it to reach us. instead, it meets us where we are and fills in those empty parts we didn’t know we were missing. It’s a teacher, often times about the world around us. if we look and listen carefully, we might even be able to learn a little something about ourselves.
peace, love & blessings.