The Power of the Arts and My WIP
Note: This post was originally published on my old blog in early fall 2016, right as I was about to begin doing an overhaul of the book discussed in here for my senior capstone project. Some of the wording has been lightly updated to avoid confusion, but just keep in mind that this is not a new post.
Those who follow me on social media have probably seen some of my posts on my new work-in-progress (WIP), which I have been very excited about. (I've been calling it "Dante WIP.")
A lot of what I love went into this project. Dante Alighieri's Commedia, which I've been fascinated by since I was a sophomore in high school. Tuscany--I think part of the reason I've clung to this project like a life preserver all summer is because it is the last connection to Italy I brought home with me. I conceived the idea and started writing this story while I was there, and it contains many places I visited.
But more than those, the single driving force behind this story, this new world I've created, is the power behind the arts. So much so that I wanted to dedicate a whole blog post to it.
I could get on a long tangent on my personal reasons for being such an advocate for the arts. It's important to me, not only because I love the arts and all that they provide, but because I was cultivated in a school (specifically, among classmates) who did not feel the same as me. I remember actually thinking at one point during my younger, more impressionable years that something had to be wrong with me because I was so different from my other classmates. I preferred to read and draw and daydream rather than engage in yet another game of kickball.
I know better now that I've met so many people like me and my worldview has expanded. But I'll never forget that feeling, that single thought: Something must be wrong with me.
I want to proclaim how important the arts are for the kids like me who need to be encouraged in what they love to do. On a broader scope, I feel like the arts so often get shoved aside, swept under rugs titled "Frivolous" and "Escapist." You must just want to stick your head in the sand and ignore the "important" issues in our world.
And, yes of course, many artists use their work to make political statements, and I'm not discrediting that or saying it's not okay. You do you. I'm talking about those who like to use it for the sake of beauty.
I believe that the arts, that innately human need to create and be imaginative, is something that can link everyone and touch hearts.
I recently read Elizabeth Gilbert's new book, Big Magic, the purpose of which is to free your inner creativity and learn to live a more expressive life indulging in whatever you're passionate about. Her central point, which can be boiled down to "do what you love and don't mind what everyone else thinks," is something I've believed for a few years now. The arts have the power to change us, even heal us.
Now, perhaps I took the power of the arts too literally in my "Dante WIP" by literally attaching magic to the arts. However, I think Gilbert is onto something here by equating creative expression with magic. Maybe we can't actually open up new worlds and manipulate reality--not in a literal sense--but the arts can do that in a figurative sense. And that's the closest to magic I believe we'll ever get.
At one point in the book, Gilbert talks about the unpredictability of creative "success." (I put that in quotations because I don't believe success in creativity should be defined by what other people think of your work. But that's for another blog post.) She talks about how she never anticipated her book Eat Pray Love to be such a huge bestseller. She wrote it for herself, to express her innermost thoughts and feelings and try to make sense of that point in her life.
As I read that section, I couldn't help but think about my blog post from last February (2016, the updated version was published on here in January 2018) about saying goodbye to the New Mexico of my childhood and coping with all these new changes in my life. Honestly, I didn't write that for you readers. Not completely. I wrote it for the same reason Gilbert wrote Eat Pray Love: to try to make sense of this transitional moment in my life. I was even hesitant to publish it, because I thought perhaps it had stripped me too bare, that maybe I shouldn't post something that raw and revealing online. I thought, "No one's going to care. They're going to roll their eyes and think, 'Stop being so dramatic, Alex. Stop whining about your life.'"
You can imagine my shock, then, when that post garnered the most views--by hundreds--of any other post on this blog. I had people I don't even talk to that much message me to tell me how much that post touched them and how much they related to it. It got shared a ton across social media. People I'd never met in person told me how much that post meant to them.
Now, that was one small blog post, not really comparable to Gilbert's huge success with Eat Pray Love. But I think the point remains the same. I've come to learn that if you pour your heart and soul into your creative work, the outcome is going to be so much better than if you approach it the way you might approach an annoying homework assignment. Maybe not always; as I already mentioned, creative "success" is subjective and unpredictable. But, undoubtedly, your best work will be the work you fall in love with. And that's pretty damn close to magic.
How does this relate to my Dante WIP? This book is about people who can use magic through art. My characters have real, magical abilities that are fed by the arts, and they even each have a special "affinity" in a particular area in the arts where their magic is the strongest.
Now, it goes a little deeper than that, but I'll save you the pain of going through a whole detailed magic system. You'll just have to read the book whenever it's published. :)
I wanted warriors who fought evil not with weapons, but with art. (But weapons do undoubtedly have to come into play on occasion.) Art and color and beauty help my characters form their connection to their magic.
It's been fun exploring this take on magic, especially since I get to use a lot of the art history I've studied. The thought that kept me going throughout the hardest parts of revisions is: I need this to be published for all the artistic souls out there.
You are worthy. You are important. Your art doesn't have to be political or make any important statements to matter, to change lives.
This book is for you.