Art is Salvation

I woke up today with a immense sense of self-worth for the first time in awhile. I had an epiphany, and I realized that I finally bested my current Guardian at the Threshold.

Throughout my life, I have had endless guilt about my chosen path. I have had so many moments of shame when I think about the amount of suffering in the world, and despite my level of empathy and my level of education and overall privilege, I chose art over philanthropy. This guilt was part of what sent me running from art school when I was 18 and deciding to pursue a career in psychology. I worked in Social Services for most of my adult life providing direct care for adults and children with developmental disabilities. While doing this fulltime, I went back to school and took classes when I could with the hopes of becoming a Behavioral Therapist. I was teeming with love and worry and determination to help the people I supported.

Despite being beaten and injured by clients, receiving no support from the various underfunded nonprofit companies I worked for, nor the scandalous and vampiric for-profit companies I worked for, and the complete inability to instigate any sort of change for the people I supported due to a system that consists of no funding, healthcare professionals that often show no interest whatsoever in DD patients and their caregivers other than getting them and their Medicaid out of their office as quickly as possible, psychiatrists that immediately prescribe meds designed to curb behavioral issues by sedation as opposed to look into any sort of long term strategy geared toward actual healing, case managers that oversee 100+ other cases and could care less about scheduling a meeting or case review with you, let alone changing an ISP plan to fix something dire, no educational resources whatsoever for the community or for the family members of these folks, I could on forever and ever and ever.

After years of working this in this field, I found that even my small victories were meaningless, and every success was one step forward before the inevitable two steps back. I hated it, and for years I was so, so unhappy. All of this time I was making art. I would go home and collage all of my bitterness. I would go home with bruises and a bloody nose and paint my resentment. I would go home after comforting a manic client who was in tears for hours from a drug induced panic-attack and I would write poetry about their strength. That’s what came natural. I justified dragging myself to another evening of work knowing I was going to be thrust into another unsafe situation, knowing that I was going to do nothing but babysit suffering, knowing that my coworkers could care less and would be catty and abusive, because I knew I would come home and pour it all out into an image. Art became my reason for getting up in the morning. I sure as hell wasn’t fixing anything for the people I provided care for at work, I was just another person enabling this flawed institution. But if I could go home and create, at least I contributed something good and beautiful to the world. When I realized that that is what I was doing, I quit my job and started working towards getting back in school and finishing my Bachelor’s in Fine Art.

And so here I am today, still struggling with this selfish decision. I felt like I ran away from something truly meaningful where I could have done some actual work that benefitted the world, even minutely. All for happiness, and I’ve never believed that happiness is a byproduct of achieving one’s purpose in life. But then I realized that this is just what I do. I could crucify myself emotionally for humanity for the rest of my life and the only good and real thing that would come out of it is my art. It is what I do. It is what I live and breathe. It is what I actually do right. It is what I love, and what I find sacred, and I no longer feel like that is a childish rationalization.

Art was the very first step. Art transformed the ape into the shaman. Our emotions that we hold so sacred are an involuntary evolved mechanism for survival. Art was the first intentional reaction to those impulses that inherently rule us, our very first reaction to desire, fear, and wonder. It was the realization that life is temporary and it is the urge to make our mark. Through art we are immortal. All of the lives we try to enrich and save will end, and all of the institutions that we try to fix and preserve will crumble with time. Humanity is temporary, and when it disappears it will be as if it never existed with no consciousness left to contemplate it. But art will remain, and with it and its inherent worth for nothing but that it exists, humanity will survive. Even if another sentient being never again gazes into a painting or is lost in a song or transported by literature, we will remain through art. We exist until the last temple crumbles. And if some form of intelligence comes along long after our disappearance and discovers a piece of technology, a time capsule, an audio file, they will know us and preserve us.

Art in all forms has inflamed the souls of man for eons. We can look to carvings in the Tower of London and the Christian catacombs of Rome to know that art is salvation. Art is hope, cryptology, escape. Art is the only true way we can know each other’s hearts. Art is our only solace when everything else has been taken away, some would say that we even created the most successful form of art – Religion – for this very purpose (momentarily disregarding the ways it has been perverted, of course.) Art is communion, and it is there to reinforce our reasons for being better people.

Never again will I make excuses or doubt my worth for being a “self serving artist.” For years and up until this revelation I felt like I was repeatedly becoming a Guardian at the Threshold for many of the people in my life, due to my dedication to uphold something so selfish: to bring art into the world. To follow what inspires me and to honor the paths that keep my flow of creativity strong and healthy and all things that are conducive to me manifesting my dreams and nightmares into a visual reality. I am proud to say that art is my raison d’etre, my Great Work. I am part of that continuation from the beginning of time: I am a writer of that ever evolving, universal, true language. Orator Sapientia. Speaker of Wisdom, Speaker of Truth.

I will forever respect and admire the souls that exhaust themselves by trying to save the world. I will always be in awe of everyone who dedicates their lives to saving and enriching life for the rest of us. Thank you for lessoning the pain of existence. Thank you for finding reward in your victories. Thank you for fixing the things that matter right now, for the most part, now is all that matters to humanity. Altruism is ironically what will preserve our species, and we all know it.

But now I know my place. Existence is pain, art is salvation.


7 thoughts on “Art is Salvation

  1. Valerie – you have truly bared your soul in sharing this epiphany in a powerfully written post. The first thought that comes to mind is “a picture is worth a thousand words”.
    I too have worked in the medical industrial complex all my life, though not at your level, and more on the physical cardiology electrophysiology level rather than you in your mental health field. I think i have done a lot of good helping people, and hope you do not diss yourself too harshly thinking you have not made a difference at some time some place with someone. The mind is definitely more fragile than the body, so your job was hard for sure. The onc time i truly felt i was working for the Antichrist was when i worked in the pharmacy, where meds were marked up 700%, which is more than diamonds are. It is good you were able to go home and put your frustrations into your art. When we worked in the ER we went home and drowned our memories in alcohol.
    One final thought i have is to quote Keats – “Beauty is truth, truth beauty,” – that is all Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.”
    i would like to reblog this to those who read my blog who are artists and artisans.

    1. Thank you for being a healthcare worker. I am one of many (most) people that wouldn’t be alive right now if it weren’t for you amazing healers. Do what you do wherever you can, your work is a blessing. I am actually pretty optimistic that that particular industrial complex is about to face a tremendous paradigm shift, perhaps even in our lifetime. That’s the hope, anyway.

      1. Unfortunately after 34 years in medicine (just a tech of various sorts) i am now off d/t Meige’s syndrome, a dystonia that may require a deep brain stimulator. Luckily i live fairly close to a major medical center that does a lot of research and am in the best of hands, and now luckily have SSD and Medicare since i went for a couple years with no insurance thus no medical care. But being on the receiving end instead of the giving end is odd, and i am glad i know the inside ropes. I could go on a tirade about health care in the US but won’t fill this comment section with it. Perhaps i will write a post some day.
        I pray your art brings light and opens peoples eyes and minds and gives you fulfillment. BB.

  2. Those are some beautiful words. I admire your dedication to your craft. Art speaks to us even when we aren’t in a position to want to hear what other’s have to say. Though the change you may bring to the world as an artist may seem intangible at times, realize there are those that you have silently touched with your work. People who may have seen what you created and said to themselves “Ah, this person, knows where I’m coming from.”
    There’s a little piece of you in everything you create and by sharing that with others you are contributing to humanity in more ways than you know. Don’t short change your talents. What you do could inspire someone, who in turn, may change the world.

  3. I’m glad you guys enjoyed this piece of self-congratulating. I mean, the realization was important to me, and I’m thankful if anyone finds it inspirational. Thank you guys for the encouragement.

    I am usually embarrassed for myself after I wax eloquent about anything.

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