It seems to me that one way to express our human task is for each of us to live our own life artfully, playfully, creatively, with imagination, purpose, zeal, and love. No one can live your life for you; you must do it for yourself. And an essential part of living one’s own life is to approach life and one’s duties with playfulness. Life without play is not life, but lifelessness. Animals play. Human beings play, and those who live well, who are good human beings, are playful and joyful in their tasks.
Each person needs an art. By art I mean a more or less deliberate and thoughtful way of being playful. Play can be wholly unstructured and spontaneous; to become art, play needs thoughtfulness, a degree of ordered intelligence, a sense of purpose in what one is doing.
A truly great and creative artist communicates freshness, joy, playfulness, as well as thoughtfulness and control, in his or her art. If it is mere haphazard noise or motion or form, it is not art; if it is not done with playfulness and a zest for life, it may be art, but it would be dull and simply unimaginative.
When in your life are you most you? What do you do that reminds you of you, or makes you feel more alive, more joyful, more awake? I think that in those activities that you truly enjoy and feel alive, you are being playful, and possibly exercising an art.
Consider a real artist: The music of J.S. Bach is not only the most learned music I know, but the most creative and playful. Having mastered every aspect of the science and art of music, Bach is free to explore all sorts of possibilities, and ever delights in fresh forms, sounds, ways to express his faith in God and sheer joy in life. For those without ears to hear, Bach’s music is “boring,” and that means that the hearer is not attuned to the play, the spiritual freedom, the intellectual self-overcoming that is ever real and alive in Bach’s music. Bach’s music is still utterly alive because he poured his playful life into the music, and did so with consummate skill and artistry.
Playfulness keeps us vital and refreshed; one’s art is a thoughtful and considered form of play. When you “do your art,” you feel at home, alive, awake, joyful, and you have an inner awareness that you are doing what you ought to do, you are being true to yourself--regardless of whether or not another person appreciates what you are doing. Art is its own justification or purpose, and does not really require another’s praise or even appreciation, although as human beings we like to communicate and share our arts with others. But a genuine artist would find ways to do his or her art even “on a desert island,” “far from the madding crowd.”
Art is not achieved at once or suddenly. Rather, it takes work, effort, concentration, and attuning to the Spirit who brings forth what is good and beautiful. The inner eye must be opened, and see the beautiful in things or beings around oneself, and respond. For example, when a photographer is moved by beauty in nature, he feels drawn to compose the kind of photograph that will do justice to the beauty glimpsed, or even make it more accessible to the viewer. He needs to decide what to include and what to exclude, how to create a balanced and beautiful photograph given the material presented around him in nature. In a sense, the photographer is doing homage to the God of beauty present around and within him, and he wants to honor this divine Beauty in his photograph.
Art honors the Artist of All. It testifies to the Spirit’s activity to keep bringing goodness and beauty into being. Art is creative, because the Creator is working through the artist in the act of creating--whether or not the artist is aware of the divine power at work.
To say that everyone needs an art means this: Each human being must find his or her way to honor the Creator by being creatively free, to honor Beauty by bringing beauty into being. Art ennobles life, it spiritualizes life. There is no real spiritual life that is not lived freely and creatively, and hence playfully, and--with some practical knowledge and skill--without expressing itself in an art. When a human being does his or her art, the Creator is glorified and worshiped, and the human being becomes at once more truly human and more divine. Art lifts one out of the narrowness of the self-enclosed soul, and moves the soul into union with the Artist of all.