I am a ridiculous person.
Anyone who has met me for more than about five minutes will probably tell you that one of the most distinctive things about me is how loudly I laugh. This is something that has been true basically since I learned what laughter was. I frequently got in trouble in class when I was younger for laughing too much, or generally for sowing dissension or being humorously disruptive.
I am also a deeply serious person. I have a LOT of very deep opinions, and as many people can tell you, will talk for hours about topics such as capitalism, the pros and cons of various political systems and styles of leadership, sexism, racism, homophobia and transphobia, and the nature of the universe.
I have a lot of deep and serious thoughts. But having these thoughts all the time, and only expressing them in a strictly serious way, is EXHAUSTING. And frankly, it’s not only exhausting to the person expressing these thoughts and feelings, but it’s exhausting to the people around them, too.
And when people are exhausted, they stop listening.
When people stop listening, we lose them as a potential member of our community. In turn, this creates an echo chamber that slowly excludes anyone who doesn’t already accept the serious premise of the discussion/product/what have you.
But why do we make art? Do we make it for ourselves? Some do, and I have great respect for people who make their art for themselves as a hobby or an outlet for self-expression. But that doesn’t interest me, personally. For me, art feels too important to keep to myself. And it seems to me that most of the people I know who consider themselves professional artists are interested in using their art to change perspectives, or at the very least, broaden the artistic horizons of people who might not be familiar with what we do.
In order for that to work, we need to keep people interested. And the easiest way to keep people interested is to make them laugh.
That doesn’t mean that everything we do needs to be funny. That doesn’t mean that we can’t produce pieces that have some serious messages, dramatic content, or challenging craft. But we do have to make people who don’t already understand what it is we’re trying to do, feel welcome.
Art is something that is intentionally removed from the normal everyday experience of living. On your way to work, you don’t have to paint something to get on the train. In order to file a tax report, you don’t have to compose a song. Your weekly trip to the grocery store doesn’t require you to dance from shelf to shelf. What we do, out of context, can seem objectively ridiculous. There is a great internet trend on Facebook and Twitter where you badly summarize your job. My bad summary would sound something like “scream at other people until a piece of paper tells me to stop.” And it’s important, I think, for all of us to keep a sense of humor and levity about what it is that we do, both personally and more broadly.
Language and culture evolve side by side, and influence each other. Humans invented metaphor, and I think it’s not an accident that the most common symbol for inspiration is a light bulb. “Light,” in addition to being the opposite of “dark,” is also the opposite of “heavy.” Something that is “light and fun” is something that makes you feel good. Often people will wish each other “joy and light” or “peace and light,” which seems to be the highest hope for their state of being. Psychologically, for English speakers at least, inspiration, change, and happiness, comes from lightness.
I caution everyone, therefore, who strives to bring art into an important place in society, to not trick yourself into thinking you can only do that from a place of “weight” and “seriousness.” Weight, seriousness, and meaning are consequences of the product, but they are not what people are looking for. People want light. *I* want light. Even my favorite dark, serious, intense works take that coveted spot because they make me feel something outside my heavy fleshweight of being.
As great acting teachers will say, in order to act drunk onstage, try to act sober.
In order to make “serious” art, I reach for light.