Life is Art
We all need a little inspiration at the start of a new year. I got more than just a little inspiration from an unexpected source. During the holidays I read Barry Katz’s biography “Herbert Marcuse & the Art of Liberation” published in 1982. Now, I am not a Marxist or a Communist, but I am convinced that we can learn a lot from people without agreeing with everything they say*. For what it is worth, I think we can learn so much from Marcuse as a thinker, if we dare to look beyond his political allegiances. Ironically, I believe that many of his ideas can be used by entrepreneurs and businesspeople…that are interested in ethical and sustainable practices.
A golden thread that runs through Marcuse’s work is his use of art as an example of how we can and should approach life. He believed that art has got the power to, as he put it, evoke an uncompromised and unconquered dimension of man and nature…resisting integration into mainstream civilization. He maintained that art should be embraced as the expression of the hidden dimension of unexperienced reality. He held that through philosophy and art we can envisage another mode of existence. I interpret this as art reminding us of, and confirming, the possibility to imagine and anticipate a better future. Like with a work of art we can actively imagine and conceptualise the future as a real possibility. Art reminds us of our capabilities and sparks the motion towards living the experienced potentiality again and again. The mere thought of the implications that living this philosophy, of implementing it, is almost frightening in its scope and depth!
What excites me most about this way of thinking is that it rejects the very suggestion that institutionalised boundaries and expectations set by society represents reality and what is possible. It calls us up to refuse to conform to the oppressive one-dimensional world conjured up as totality of what is …and more importantly of what can be! These ideas opened my mind up to the possibility of approaching life as art. Because, in Marcuse’s mind, art represents the unchartered landscape of a non-repressive reality and underscores the right of the imagination as a cognitive power.
My contention is that most of us do not live life as art. At best we do life like a paint by numbers exercise or project. We are conditioned and brainwashed to aspire to a life we see in HD, high-tech multicolour on social media. Mass media and marketing drives us to all want to paint the same picture. This is because a one dimensional, one size fits all, picture of what success looks like is presented to us. Imagine the absurdity of all the great masters aspiring to create the exact same perfect picture. We also know that living this dream has not brought people the promised utopia but instead lead to massive waste, destruction, and misery, captured in the title of the philosopher Charles Taylor’s book…” The Malaise of Modernity”.
It seems to me that many companies set out to search for and recruit the most brilliant, creative, and open minded “artists” they can find. But the irony is, that once they have employed them, they set out to try and get them to stop thinking and “paint by numbers”, to paint inside the lines. Isn’t the whole idea of hiring genius to allow them to create magic and new fantastic possibilities? We tend to coach the genius out of our potential “great masters” in our schools, universities, and companies. Most institutions like and drive conformity. This is all exacerbated by the tyranny of social media. The total sacrifice of the individual. Tragically, this is all happening at a time when we need the magical power of revolutionary new ideas to envisage a previously unimagined future. Liberating the imagination as a cognitive power!
I think Marcuse would refer to living this philosophy as embracing the excess of being over mere existence. The fact is that if we choose to life live as art, we will feel estranged and the liberating loneliness of owning our own unexperienced reality and dreams. Any liberated human being that embraces the gift of living life as an expression of who they really are will face the antagonism of society. One of the saddest realities of our times is that we punish nonconformity and being different in the people that we love most …. like our children and partners…because we believe success means living up to the institutionalised mass media created picture of a “masterpiece”.
My own experience with creating any work of art is that the starting point is always a clean canvas, tabula rasa, PURE POTENTIALITY! What can manifest is only limited by our imagination. Maybe it is time for us to embrace and apply this to our lives. But, be warned, this will take the courage that only very few humans have…to take responsibility for what they do with their own potential…in their specific and often limiting circumstances. To let somebody else dictate to us who and what we should be or become would be an inexcusable cop-out, nothing less than giving away the biggest gift that we as humans have.
Our lives are canvases for the unlimited potentiality of creating and living beauty and kindness.
For more info on the creative process:
Read Roger Martin’s “The Opposable Mind“.