How Does Art Help?

Are things like playing music and writing fiction (or art in general) pretty frivolous and unimportant in the grand scheme? Can those things actually help people? Is it arrogant to think they can? Or self-centered to try to convince yourself that they do so you can feel okay with continuing to do them?

I’m torn on this. I would say, yes, music and literature have helped me–but how, really? Is escapism a valid-enough form of help? Is “giving me the feels” a valid-enough form of help? I do remember one time in high school making a list of reasons not to kill myself. The main selling point: I wouldn’t be able to hear Bob Dylan’s voice ever again. So I guess you could say he saved my life, not that he’ll ever know it (actually, I might argue he’s saved my life in several ways).

But then I could also say I see how those things have hurt me. I get to learn about people by consuming their work. I get to learn about humanity from a distance. I don’t have to engage vis-à-vis. I’ve never really learned how to sit with another person and have a conversation because I can sequester myself in my room and listen to music or read, and the music doesn’t judge me; the novel tells me its story without expecting me to entertain it in return. I don’t have to have my guard up. I don’t have to worry if I’m boring. (One of the reasons I started this blog was because I kept typing up posts of questions I wanted to ask people on Facebook and then deleting them out of fear of being annoying–on Facebook!)

Should a creator just do what they do, arrogantly and selfishly, and then, if someone is helped by it, that’s just an extra benefit? Is that what we’re to hope for, even if we may never know it? Or, if we’re using our creative work to save ourselves, is that enough? Or does that feed into the way the world is growing more self-absorbed (as it really seems to be)?

Or would it be more helpful to kill your creative drive or sublimate it into something more patently beneficial? (Whatever that may be–building houses for those in need? Volunteering with disaster relief programs? Washing out your cans and jars before putting them in the recycling bin? Saving the environment?)

Is it arrogant to think you get to decide how people need your help?

How has music or fiction or art ever helped you? How do you let yourself create? Is it a process you have to justify to yourself?

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