Art as making contact

A writer starts out, I think, wanting to be a transfiguring agent, and ends up usually just making contact, contact with other human beings. —Joy Williams

There are some sentences I fall in love with at first glance, ones that burn in my mind forever, echoing with ripples of generosity. This is one of them.

This idea of making contact is perhaps my whole aspiration in life, and maybe always was. As soon as I learned that you can achieve this contact through writing (and how much the internet aids this endeavor) I've aspired to dive into my psyche and resurface with insights waiting to be shared. Nothing seemed better. The craft of finding the right words to vessel them forth has been a wholly separate challenge, but part of the fun nonetheless.

This earnest desire to reach out a hand is at the heart of all great art, I think. And it's why I harbor a fierce conviction that the most redemptive thing about us humans is that we so thirst to make this warm contact, through something so functionally useless as art.

Michelangelo's Creation of Adam always comes to mind when I remember this quote, the hand of God reaching for the hand of Adam, both with fingers outstretched in breathtaking grace. A primordial and holy touch. And, I would suggest, the story of all stories: that of striving for unity with that from which we feel achingly, wrongfully severed, whether it's a divine entity or the person we come home to at night, the quiet stranger in the coffee shop seated next to us, the nameless crowds that drive by us in the trafficked streets. The person behind a screen reading what you wrote miles away.

There is, I agree, an impulse to transfigure as well (generally and personally speaking), but more and more I see this salvation impulse as an externalized search for actualization. We want to save ourselves but instead we direct our gaze at the world around us as "in need of fix" and focus our heroic energies on our family or the government. Is this noble? Frequently. But could this also at times be driven by a need to organize the world into something orderly so we can temper the chaos of the human experience? To control the outside to ward off feelings of anxiety within? Maybe.

That's an aside, though. I think the desire to change others through art is a natural instinct. God knows we all need a little help. But the desire to move others, I am convinced, is no less the precursor to transformation if through a subtler process. Art reflects something real back to the one looking, and grants them a seeing, a recognition. Chuck Klosterman summed it up beautifully:  “Art and love are the same thing: It’s the process of seeing yourself in things that are not you.” And is seeing yourself—really seeing yourself—not the agent of all actualization?

Interestingly, it's anyone's guess whether the sincere impulse to move others through artistic expression is more transformative for the giver or receiver of the work. Is the giver, in expressing their gifts, actualizing themselves and thereby experiencing a sort of transcendence? Are they not also forced to see beneath the surface of their lives to retrieve something that comes from a real, breathing place? Conjectures, all, but they portray the possibility of transformation as both consequence and prerequisite in various shades.

Of course, that the one receiving the art can be altered is a given. Certain books, albums or movies can shake the foundations of our lives such that the observation itself is banal, though from where I stand it's no less a miracle and it stuns me still.

"Creativity is the way I share my soul with the world," said Brené Brown in an interview with Elizabeth Gilbert. "And without it, I am not okay. And without having access to everyone else’s, we are not okay." If one drive animates all human activity, it is to make contact. And fashioning art out of the raw stuff of human experience is a timeless and life-giving means to this end.