In 1970, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn began his beautiful Nobel lecture by commenting on art’s mysterious nature and origin:
We received [art] from hands which we did not have a chance to see clearly. Neither had we time to ask: Why this gift for us? How should we treat it?
Solzhenitsyn was lecturing primarily about the gift and responsibility of art, but I think he alludes to another aspect of its mysterious nature: Art is as much of a seeker as we are. Only rather than seeking happiness or fulfillment, art seeks us.
Have you ever felt like art came to you at the opportune time?
I don’t mean inspiration or the muse. I mean the experience of being found by a work of art.
The album that grabbed your heart by its earlobes. You had heard one of the songs before, and a cousin listened to it compulsively all through fall semester, but at the time it wasn’t enough to squeeze your soul. Until it did—when suddenly the artist seemed to be singing into your eyes.
The movie your friend recommended. It took weeks of sitting on your dresser, in your Amazon queue, and in your notes app for you to finally watch it. Then you realized it been waiting to remind your heart of something both timely and important, that it was an invitation to some new chapter or adventure, awaiting your answer.
The books. They came to you like Gandalf and the dwarves: singly and in pairs, but always relevant and timely, as if pointing you towards a destination. They continue bringing you to unexpected and wonderful places in life and thought; your stack might as well be a walking stick.
Does any of this sound familiar?
Art seems to find you when you need it most (it certainly came for Oliver Sacks when he broke his leg running from a bull) and sometimes even when you’re not aware you need it. Sometimes art functions less like an ambulance and more like a challenge, which is what happened to Megan Boone. The moment she read her character’s part in The Blacklist she knew it was meant to be hers.
But whether you’re an artist or not, the encounter feels intentional, as if you had been sought out. Here’s what my colleague Neil experienced:
At the beginning of my sophomore year, a lot of the structure which had defined my life was falling apart. I was restless, going on road-trips, spending nights in roadside dive bars, and relentlessly seeking adventure in the deserts and mountains of the American West. My failure to find comfort in the church and in the classroom disturbed me. Around this time, one name kept popping up; Jack Kerouac. I saw him on lists of suggested reading for Catholics, for road-trippers, and for Westerners. His name came up in classes and in conversation. I was deterred because of his reputation for being a proto-hippy, and for the emphasis on drugs and sex in his writing, but finally, after a conversation with a literature professor, I knew I couldn’t ignore him anymore.
I find it funny that, in contrast to the repetitive way in which his name bombarded my life then, many of my friends now have only barely heard of him. I feel that his art ‘found me’ at a time when I needed it most. It helped me tear down a dichotomy which had become a source of confusion and conflict in my life, and for that I am extremely grateful.
He owns two copies of On the Road: one for the office, one for his room. And he’s continually planning road trips.
Better Than Recommendations on Amazon
Art doesn’t come like an Amazon recommendation, based on buying habits and browsing histories. It’s too “intentional” to be coincidence. Art is intensely personal. It’s living and active. It finds us just as often as we’d like to think we found it. And it comes to illuminate the corners of our lives just when we needed it most.
Are you paying attention to the art that has been coming your way lately? Is there a pattern?
And if there is, how are you responding to it?
Image by Chen YiChun via Unsplash.