Tuesday, October 2, 2012

The Escapist Artist

Yesterday, Marina told me she realized her art was escapist.

I didn't really see a problem with that, but it was obvious from her expression that it was a problem.

Students are working along themes in her drawing class this year, and while others have picked serious issues--drug abuse, war, etc.--as a theme for their projects, Marina chose fairy tales. In particular, she is basing all of her work on the tale "East of the Sun, West of the Moon." The class started bringing in their various projects, and if my daughter is anything like me (she is), she is comparing her work to others.

She complained to me that she doesn't really want to do a "serious" theme. She doesn't want to be depressed by her work. I understand that. I'm an optimist at heart. I also understand that the world doesn't always take it's lighthearted artists...um...seriously.  And that's a shame.

Marina knows stories. I mean, she really knows stories. I've heard her chatter away about one tale or another as if she had just put the book down. She relates to life through storytelling.

And that is my point. It's true, fairy tales do tend to have happy endings. They were told through dark times, when poverty, plague, famine and war made death a common sight. But escapism is only part of what these stories are. Think about it. Things are never easy for the hero or heroine. If you read the classic tales of the Brothers Grimm,  you will notice that the protagonist must go through great trials to reach their goals. It isn't simply Cinderella working as a servant for her stepmother. There are beatings, betrothals to cannibalistic robbers, friends and family are killed, spirited away or transformed into beasts. The protagonist might lose a limb or get swallowed whole. Things appear so bleak the audience is almost left in despair.

But then it gets better.

Our issues are nothing new. We may have different names for the plagues, and new ways to fight the wars, but not much else has changed. Human suffering is a condition of life. What our fairy tales tell us is that someone understands our trials, someone knows how hard it's been. They comfort us and remind us that we must never give up. 

Our stories give us hope.

I think that's a nice thing to have.    

"...I realized this was 'the sad part.' I repeated this to myself again and again, to try to make it not feel so terrible.
   But it didn't help. It never does. It still hurts when a character you love dies, and another is left all alone in the world.
   Nevertheless, I will tell you, as I always tell myself, that things will get better. Much, much better. I promise." ~A Tale Dark & Grimm by Adam Gidwitz


8 comments:

Rachel Proffitt said...

I'm another eternal optimist- and Fairy Tale lover :) I think the world NEEDS this lighthearted art, because there are people who cannot see the beauty and loveliness or hope in their situations.
Perhaps all she needs to realize, is that some people need others to guide them towards escapism. And who knows, perhaps illustrating books is in her future- I can think of worse jobs :)

jugglingpaynes said...

Thank you for your kind words, Rachel. I showed them to Marina. Your comment made her smile. Thanks for that!

Rachel Proffitt said...

Glad to help :) And I meant every word!

Melissa R said...

I just came over to say the same thing. I rarely click from the post in my email box to the website. I did click over because I wanted to express that there is so much negativity in the world that we see daily and so much need for more happy. Please don't stop doing what is in your heart. You don't need to be a depressed struggling artist to be a serious artist. Give the world what is inside you and the world will smile back at you.

PrairieFrogs said...

Art that sees the beauty in trials is (sadly) becoming a lost art. Somehow it's become intellectually en vogue to express chaos and darkness without any counterpoint of hope, light or joy. Fairy Tales are enduringly beautiful because they show both in contrast, revealing the reality of struggle, yet resolving into hope and triumph. My personal hunch is that Marina's art might not fit today's bleak emotive fads, but will have a timelessness her classmates' lack. "Escapist Art" gives perspective--for as we step back from ourselves we have better perspective to see the whole.

jugglingpaynes said...

Thank you comments and support, Melissa R and PrairieFrogs. I love what you both wrote, such wonderful insight!

Inner Elder said...

It seems to me that today there is room for all types of art, music, literature, etc. And that's what makes our world, with its wealth of talent and creativity, so exciting. We have plenty of depressing art, books and music, Marina. Gift us with fairy tales! Love, Grandma

Paula Vince said...

I think 'escapist art' sounds appealing, actually. I hear what you're saying. Earlier this year, a hated debate was going on among some Aussie writer online groups I've joined. It was all about whether giving readers happy endings is simply unrealistic and setting them up for many hard knocks in life. I stayed aloof from it a bit, because I simply prefer to be optimistic and predictably happy. You hear enough of the other sort of stuff in the media every day without it needing to infiltrate our art and stories :)
I've liked reading the other comments above too.

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