Somebody’s always asking that question.
“To make us feel small…is a function of art,” says Forster.
About literature I’m willing to say the same thing—its function is to make us feel small. If that sounds all wrong, it’s because “small” connotes something wrong.
Typically, though, what is small or wrong in the everyday world turns out to be an advantage in that other more subtle realm about which most people (writers excluded, of course!) delight in knowing as little as possible.
E.M. Forster (A Room with a View, A Passage to India) points out that there are right and wrong ways to “feel small”. The right kind of “small” is a precondition for moving beyond our narcissistic self.
Seth Godin, in his blog, comments that, “Feeling small gives us the guts to create something bigger, bigger than ourselves.” With all due respect, I think it’s by “guts” that we endure our shrunken status without freaking out, but the “something bigger” isn’t a function of us at all.
Becoming part of something bigger is a state of grace that descends into the emptiness of our disappearing. Kazantzakis calls this the “supreme human achievement”.
Growing up—it’s a tricky business!
Which explains why the human organizm depends upon something like Art to affect the essential first step of getting out of our own way. Here’s how I see it:
Art makes us small—guts keeps us in the game—awakening is the gift.
Take a literary work of art like Zorba the Greek. We identify with the main character who can’t let go of his socialist theories and simply “Live!” The author, Kazantzakis, artfully portrays the crumbling of his hero’s assumptions, and the reader is similarly down-sized, psychically speaking. This is the essential ego-shrinking that Art can induce in us.
Readers (no less than the anal-retentive protagonist) open to a more inclusive worldview. In the final scenes of Zorba, we readers are no less surrendered than the Marxist when, finally, he tells Zorba, “Teach me to dance.”
I have the urge to turn this into a game—answering the Top 10 Questions that People Would Rather Not Know the Answers to.
Over to you… what questions absolutely must be on that list?
To view the work “Antiquary” and for more info on the artist: http://www.theswallowsnest.ca/create-connect-art-show-march-15-april-16/