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Self-Expression, My Salvation

Sept. 22, 2023

Curtesy of Mark Mann, 2018

According to the dictionary, the word ‘express’ means ‘to convey a thought’. It also means ‘to squeeze out’. I’d say the latter completes the former. The act of expressing oneself contains an underlying sense of effort. Painful? It can be. Some say, it should be. A demanding if not excruciating experience can, at times, be the price of liberation and release. The term tortured artist originated somewhere.

Expression is the release of feelings, the transformation of an emotion into an articulated thought. Not unlike the process of therapy. Ludwig Wittgenstein, a British-Austrian philosopher of the early 20th century - specialized, among other things, in the philosophy of the mind and language - said ‘there is no thought unless expressed in words’. I could extend it to music, arts, movement, and many other disciplines. Wassily Kandinsky, for instance, in his 1911 Concerning the Spiritual in Art, discussed a similar idea regarding shapes as a direct conveyor of emotions from the artist to the viewer. He strived to create shapes that expressed emotions (same as a writer uses words). Expression is a channeling and organizing process, a catharsis, that allows the confusion and turmoil of the mind to become an articulated output. Turning a feeling into something, a song, a dance, a painting, IS hard. It can hurt (ask Brahms or Baudelaire). It can also be satisfying. Either way, it almost always is necessary.

And we all crave it. I do.

We all want to express… something. Bottling ain’t doin’ it for anyone. Be it what we think, what we feel, what we wish, what we want and their opposites, this shit has to come out (pardon my French). Because if it doesn’t, the alternative is worse. If it doesn’t, we implode. If it doesn’t, we fear we don’t matter. If it doesn’t, we feel we add no value to the world and our lives make not a ripple. If it doesn’t, we oppress, we suppress, we depress. Whilst if we do - o if we do! - we decompress, we impress (hopefully ourselves), we progress. And I speak from a place of philosophy, not psychology (I am no expert in the matter). I speak from a place of personal experience.

The hard part is figuring out how; and that is where the confusion comes in. Most people think the hardest part of shooting the rocket of one’s creativity is assuring the landing. Who is going to receive, embrace (like, share, comment) and understand your heart of hearts, your most personal form of expression? Are you going to finally gather a crowd of peers (*cough cough* fans?) around what makes you you? Who is going to buy it, figuratively and (let’s be real for a hot sec’) literally? I happen to think the hard part, or shall rephrase, the real and priceless part is the take off. Sure I’d love nothing more than to connect with kindred spirits, heck, monetizing a creation doesn’t sound half bad either. But expression… (sigh)... expression finds its utmost value in transforming you.

I met Annie Lebovitz once (fan-girling, giggle giggle, blush) and she was asked ‘when did you realize you had reached success as a photographer?’ Her answer was ‘I haven’t’. Not because she hasn’t succeeded - obviously she has - but because she never thought of success as a set point to reach. Is success a job? A salary of x amount? Having groupies sleeping on your doorstep? Success is the pursuit of expression, and the thirst never satiates. It’s not a goal to reach, or an end game. It’s not a destination either. And I’m not going to lame-ass it by calling it a journey - I want to a little bit, but I won’t ‘cause it screams Gen X - so I’ll call it a becoming. Giving yourself a form of expression, pushing yourself into expression is a way to allow yourself to come into your own, to find out who you are. And if you are honest in the process, learning to love who you are on the other end.

As long as you love it, as you love you, the number of followers won’t matter as much as the connections. I can’t say it better than the way Marcel the Shell With Shoes On talks about it. You want a community, not an audience. Abstract artists get backlash all the time because people often question the final product (‘I could do that, how is this art?’). Side bar, I personally find it fascinating to read up on a piece to understand the artist's process, but it actually doesn’t matter because the piece transformed the artist from feeling to expression and it did its job there for him/her/them. How you receive it, how you feel about it and how you ‘express’ those feelings, it is a separate… journey (dang it). If you don’t ‘get it’ then ask yourself why or how it makes you feel? The artist expressed him/herself/themselves, so did you. Win-win.

The American Constitution refers to expression as a right, and it should absolutely be. However, I’ve come to see it as a necessity. So, in the wise words of Madonna (Gen X, cat's out of the bag) ‘Express yourself, don’t repress yourself.’

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