When Muses Speak Part 2: Art for Survival’s Sake
By Laura Kincaid
It is hard to believe the world can ever be quiet again. Yet this past Father’s Day I sat at my desk—TV off, phone silenced—and listened to violinist Michael Shingo Crawford perform. MAE hosted the live-streamed concert through Groupmuse. Groupmuse, which previously organized casual concerts in people’s homes, is one of many performing arts organizations exploring online formats.
“It’s a difficult time for virtually everyone, being trapped at home with little to no social interaction while the world seems to spiral out of control,” Crawford says. “In sharing music, I hope I can bring a little bit of beauty into people’s lives, even if it’s as small as a short YouTube clip.”
The absence of Art’s physicality in our lives—the act of going out to theaters, museums, concerts—punctuates Art’s impact on us. While I listened to Crawford play a song from my favorite movie, Howl’s Moving Castle, I felt transported back to the whimsical imaginations of my childhood. I didn’t realize how much I need that. Art’s emotional effects feel more tangible than ever. Whether it’s a YouTube clip, Netflix show, or a book, those moments of peace are only possible because artists like Crawford are still bringing their Muse into the world.
When music or Art quiets the world, it creates a space for healing and reflection. Tatyana Kalko is a singer and songwriter based in New York. Like Zlatina and Crawford, she performs in virtual concerts and tries to look on the bright side. The self-quarantine could be a productive time, but she struggled.
“I tend to write more about my inner world...so I think my writing has stalled. I am a bit at a loss,” Kalko explains. “Even with just responding to the Black Lives Matter movement and confronting yourself, right? I think there's so much value in creatively trying to express that.” Whether we are artists or audiences, Art poses questions and helps us process emotions. There are many ways for anyone to get their Muse talking. Journaling, collage, painting, and writing poetry can help us understand our feelings about COVID-19’s interruption in our lives or our role in racial equality.
“It’s of an artist sitting on a scaffolding many levels up from a building and looking over a city, seeing a different perspective like you would imagine God seeing the whole picture,” Kalko describes, recalling an image on the vision board she keeps. “As a creator, I think we are trying to see that in ourselves and almost like a journalist, report on what's happening without judgment.”
It is through Art that we not only understand ourselves but understand others. To find meaning during this time, Kalko has turned to her oral history project Every Life is a Song with the COJECO Blueprint Fellowship. She writes music inspired by stories from elderly members of the Russian-Jewish community to capture the emotions of their experience and preserve those stories for future generations. Music speaks across time and cultural barriers. It surprises her when people who don’t speak the languages connect with her Russian and Yiddish performances. Kalko says, “[Singing in different languages] allows me to express different parts of myself and people can connect to that. Languages carry a certain energy. I think people can feel that, especially if the performer is giving their soul. [The music] is touching a part of them.”
For Crawford, he thinks of the viral popularity of anime music. “It has ignited interest in Japanese language and culture,” he explains. “The ability to find common ground in music can foster dialogue and understanding that can help to heal the wounds of history.”
Once we connect to another person, there is an opportunity for education and action. For instance, there is an ocean of works from black voices expressing their experiences and struggles. Fire This Time edited by Jesmyn Ward collects this generation’s poetry and essays on race. The classic novel Beloved by Toni Morrison brings the painful history of slavery into immediate life for the reader. NPR has a playlist including a fraction of the recent protest songs from artists like Crys Matthews and Eric Bellinger.
“People turn to [Art] because this is where they feel the realest expression. This movement is all about expressing” dancer Asya Zlatina says. She watches how the ongoing movement expresses a spectrum of ideas. It overflows with poetry, dance, murals, and Art of every medium. “They are processing the world. That is what Art is to them...It goes through them. I don't think they're thinking; their body is saying ‘I have to do this to survive, I have to, I have to do this art to survive.’”
Similarly, Zlatina’s reaction to the pandemic was to push forward, producing the dance piece “Carry On” with her company and starting an online dance school. Months later when George Floyd’s death sparked protests for racial equality, she pulled back. She asked herself, “How do we use the arts to help those who are in need?” Through her initiative, reBuild, Zlatina donates the proceeds of her classes to black, minority, and immigrant-owned businesses destroyed in the recent violence.
While there is much to do during these times, we still need Art. If we are to have a quiet world again, we cannot listen to the guns; we need to listen to the Muses.
Read the previous piece in this series of essays, “When Muses Speak Part 1: Being an Artist in 2020” on the MAE blog. To be continued in “When Muses Speak Part 3: Now is the Time to Support the Arts.”