Art is a beautiful, daunting, terrifying thing. In a word, it’s complicated. Sometimes it’s just a category, a bin to hold painting, drawing, writing, music, or dance. But “art” can also be an achievement, a distinguished category, a medal of honor: this sandwich is so good it’s art; this essay is pure art, this technique is an art. When someone questions whether a solid-colored canvas in a museum is art, they’re not asking if it’s a painting, a creative expression; they’re asking if it’s Art with a capital A; Art with distinction, Art with a meaning beyond paint on cloth.
It’s easy to be afraid to make art for fear of not making Art with a capital A. I love to draw, but I often get frustrated and give up for months at a time because I can’t be satisfied by what I create. I love music, but the disappointment of wrong notes and imperfect musicality makes me hesitate to sit at a piano or pick up my guitar. And I love to write, but when I’m afraid that I can’t make an article profound enough or a story meaningful enough, I shut my laptop, cursor still blinking on a blank white page. We hold ourselves back from expressing ourselves freely and for our own enjoyment, for fear of it not meaning enough, not doing enough, not being enough.
I hate that we do this. I hate that I can only see the holes and gaps in my art rather than all that I have created. I hate that I create nothing at all rather than risk creating something less than museum-worthy. Because our world has taught us, and continues to teach us, that if a thing cannot be bought and sold, shared and profited from, it is not worth doing. But the world is wrong.
Maybe not everyone paints portraits or writes poetry, but pretty much everyone who has ever lived has sung, even if they weren’t all that good. Everyone has danced, even if it was only in the mirror. Everyone has doodled in the margins of their paper and written something embarrassingly dramatic in their Notes app at night. We all have an innate drive to create art, to express the awkward complexities and brutal drama and bright warm joy of being human in some artistic way. It is in our nature, as much as breathing and sleeping and eating. We don’t participate in art to make something good — we participate in art to make something human.
This Thursday, I lugged my guitar across campus to a practice room. I played even though I’m not all that good yet (and my A string doesn’t totally stay in tune), and I sang even though my voice is just about average on the best of days, and I didn’t really care if the master pianist in the room next to me heard it. I didn’t go there to create some groundbreaking rendition of a Jeff Buckley song — I went because my orgo lab ruined my day and I needed to get the energy out. I went because I had a song stuck in my head and I knew I either had to sing through the whole song or keep humming the chorus for the next week. I went because at that moment, the only thing that would make me feel better after a long week was to play music. And so I did.
Life is too difficult and heavy to not allow yourself any opportunity for levity and expression. Anything that makes you forget the time that’s passing, anything that lifts the weight off your shoulders, is worth doing. And for nearly everyone, art, at least in some capacity, is a way of doing that. So let go of the fear of Art with a capital A, and let yourself be human — sing, and dance, and write, and draw, and cry; love what you love and make what you make, and never apologize for the mediocre. Because these things are so very human, and because you (yes, you!) are art itself.