Sometimes art has to mourn

“Sometimes we only want to think about how wonderful the person’s life was, and we really don’t want to deal with the pain that came along with that”, Pearl Cleage.

Aretha Franklin Tried To Get Muhammad Ali’s Number, Pearl Cleage Remembers | 90.1 FM WABE

When news of singer Aretha Franklin’s death reached her, “City Lights” host Lois Reitzes got in touch with Atlanta playwright Pearl Cleage.

Atlanta author and playwright Pearl Cleage is interviewd by WABE’s Lois Reitzes about her new book. In it she relates a story about her father and Aretha Franklin. Aretha is being abused by her husband and she wanted Mohammad Ali’s number to call and ask him to beat up her husband.

Later after Aretha is out of that relationship she releases an album. Pearl and her father listen and afterward her father laments how empty her voice seemed. She sang better when she was in that relationship, he points out. Pearl says she would rather Aretha not sing like that than be beaten up. Her father says “I guess, I guess.”

That story hit me like a slap in the face. No one should have to go through what Aretha lived through. But it fueled her creativity. How much less would our world be if she hadn’t?

Rothko was once asked how he knew his painting was complete. “There is tragedy in every brush stroke.”

Jack White encourages his younger self in the movie It Might Get Loud that he has to have a fight with his guitar and win. If there isn’t a struggle, then make one up.

What does this say about art? What does this say about the artists? What does this say about us, the audience, when we don’t want to know the struggles behind the art?

The reality of art, what makes art real to us, is when we can see ourselves, our lives reflected in the hand, eyes, voice, words of the artist in their art. Creating art AND appreciating art is another way to rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn. And sometimes art has to mourn. There is beauty in tragedy that needs to be expressed.

Why do bad things happen? Sometimes it is so we can share each others’ burdens, carry each other through the darkness. It isn’t always light. We are not promised continual light. That does not seem to be how creation exists. There is winter as well as spring. There is no resurrection without death. A perfect flower does not always remain in bloom.

Our existence is predicated on empathy and sympathy. When we throw those out is when bad things get worse. And we can only honestly empathize and sympathize when we have gone through something similar.

The parable of the Samaritan shows both the giver of help and the receiver of that help from someone the injured is supposed to hate. Had that Samaritan experienced something similar before?

I hate tragedy and sorrow in my life or others. Would the world actually be better without it? I’d be willing to find out. But unfortunately that is not the world we live in.

Jesus, even as considered the perfect human by Christian theology, faced despair on the cross and the silence and rejected prayers by his own Father God in the garden of Gethsemane. He wept at the death of a friend. Even if we were to live perfect lives we would not be without sorrow, pain, and despair.

We are faced with an existence that will experience pain. This is why we need each other. That is the dichotomy, right? We want to be unique, but we don’t want to be alone. Loneliness and depression is the leading cause of assisted deaths in the Netherlands.

Art truly is relationship

We need to let others know they are not alone. We might not have the answers, but we have a shared experience to hold each other up, to encourage others to hold on, to say “Yes, I understand, I have been there, too.”

The notion of celebrity is hard to counter act. We think the celebrity artists have made it, that stardom is desirable for some reason. I suppose it shows someone matters to someone else. More often than not it masks the reality of the artists’ existence. We think having made it lifts the stars above the tragedies of life, when what we like most about and what attracts us to their work is how it comes from the authenticity of those tragedies.

Out of the abundance of the heart the artist creates—the poet speaks, the writer writes, the dancer dances, the painter paints, the sculptor sculpts, the actor acts. Our heart is shaped by our tragedies as much as by the joys of life.

And we need to share the tragedies with others as much as the joys.
There is more to this than I can fathom at the moment. Maybe you have some deeper thoughts to share. We need those moments in life not just for us, but for others.


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