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How to Use Art as a Defiant Act of Revolution

In the face of hardships, tragedy, loss, and sorrow, sometimes the only way forward is to use art as a defiant act of revolution by creating and experiencing beautiful things.


In a world so full of strife, conflict, and opposition on personal, systemic, and global levels, finding one’s role in bringing about change and hope can feel challenging.


At least for me, it is; and I'm not naive to the pain of life.


Over the past decade, I’ve experienced my fair share of personal hardships while simultaneously deepening my awareness of systemic oppression and witnessing heart-breaking global conflicts.


Naturally, I’ve felt overwhelmed and unsure of the impact I can make in these situations.


Yet, one thing has remained constant for me. Time and time again, I’ve turned to art to soothe my aching soul. Sometimes I've shared my art with others in the hopes that they might find similar healing balms in my artistic offerings.


The response has been remarkable- moving some to tears, others to share my work within their communities, and still others to feel less alone in their plight.


Through these experiences and from what I've witnessed as a piano teacher, I’ve come to believe that bringing beauty into the world through art is one way we can take action against all that feels wrong with the world.


More than that, art is a defiant act of revolution committed to soul-centeredness, authenticity, vulnerability, and the raw emotions of humanity.


In thinking about this essay, I thought it would be wise to look up and define a few words.


Image of a paining journal, paints, and paint brushes on a wooden table

What is Art?

Oxford’s English Dictionary defines art as “works produced by human creative skill and imagination.” It can take numerous forms including visual arts (drawings, paintings, sculpture), performing arts (dance and music), and written art (literature).


If you would permit me, I’d like to expand this definition to include the creative expression of one’s soul through any medium available. My definition makes room for the non-classical forms of art present in our everyday lives including (but not limited to) cooking, comedy, entrepreneurship, interior design, landscaping, fashion, and relationships.


In essence, I view humanity as art and art as a reflection of humanity.


What is Revolution?

Returning to Oxford’s English Dictionary, revolution can be defined as “a dramatic and wide-reaching change in the way something works or is organized or in people's ideas about it.”


Revolution equals a change of people's ideas.


Why is Art a Defiant Act of Revolution?

Art changes lives by changing people's ideas about themselves, their surroundings, and the world at large.


Art requires open hearts and open minds. Art requires brutal honesty and transparency. Art asks us to see ourselves and our neighbors from a new perspective. Art causes people to think and feel in new ways.


John Bush powder horn carving
John Bush powder horn carving

The History of Art as a Defiant Act of Revolution

Perhaps that's why art is one of the first expressions of humanity to be controlled or banned under oppressive regimes as a way to manipulate the narrative and break the spirits of the oppressed.


Yet the human spirit, and art, always seem to find a way.


I like to imagine that since the beginning of time, art has been used as a way to escape the harsh realities of life, to defy the opposition, to bring humanity back to inhumane situations, and to breathe life and hope into otherwise desperate situations.


Enslaved people created art through music, dance, and the embellishment of their few personal items. Prisoners of war likewise found ways to create art through their ingenuity and creative resourcefulness. Citizens of communist nations continued to share their perspectives through art in non-government-sanctioned ways. These are just a few examples.


This idea of art as defiance is not always directed against political and societal opposition. Art has also been called into action in times of great hardship such as during the sinking of the Titanic when the musicians “played on” or in more recent times, during the first days of COVID-19, when videos surfaced of Italian citizens singing on their balconies in unison during quarantine.


In each of these cases, the human spirit turned to the arts to express themselves, to connect with their humanity, and to find hope and comfort in the darkness.


Black and white image of a ballerina in a long toile skirt with a black background.


What does this have to do with you (the reader), me (the creative), and today’s culture?


I believe we can all access the power of art to bring about micro or macro revolutions in thinking on personal, systemic, and global levels. By entering the world of art, we can bring a slice of beauty, hope, and humanity back into an otherwise barren landscape by creating opportunities to connect with our shared humanity.

Art As a Healing Balm

Each time I experienced hardship in my life, I found myself engaged in some form of creative art:

  • Following my third child’s traumatic first weeks of life-fighting a congenital heart defect and recovering from open heart surgery, I wrote a book to document my experiences and emotions. Writing our story allowed me to process and leave a record of those events for my son.


  • The weeks before my 8-year-old daughter’s brain surgery, I wrote a poem honestly stating my fears while talking myself into trusting the universe for the outcome.


  • While processing a second-trimester miscarriage, I found myself landscaping my yard and planting flowers in their honor. By ripping out the hardened, aged bushes and replacing them with daffodils that would bloom on the anniversary of the baby's passing, I hoped to create beauty out of something I couldn't quite manifest in my thought life as I grieved.


  • When a friend’s mother passed, I turned to watercolors to paint raindrops as if the world was mourning for and with my friend.


  • As I walked through the scary and lonely days of a divorce during a global pandemic I poured my emotions into playing the piano and connecting with the gut-wrenching melodies of Chopin, a man who must have certainly known loss and pain.


  • While processing the significant shifts in my worldview, I unwillingly became a poet as my pen documented my internal landscape in verse.


In each of these cases, when I was brave enough to share, my art brought some level of comfort, connection, and beauty to my audience. I like to think that the expressions of my life experiences brought about a micro-revolution in their hearts as they perhaps found renewed joy, comfort, or newfound lightness in their souls.


Lined paper journal with a pen on a wooden table

An Invitation

Times feel heavy right now. Many people I know and love carry heavy personal burdens while culture and geopolitical wars rage on. What are we to do in the face of such circumstances that are largely out of our control?


I invite you to turn to art. Let the power of the creative expression of our humanity flip the script of our downtrodden thinking into one of hope, love, and beauty. Allow art to soothe our souls, bring communion with ourselves and our communities, introduce beauty in the face of horror, and create hope that washes away despair.


horizonal pictures of a piano


How to Engage in Art?

There is no right or wrong way to go about engaging in art. I believe to be human and to stand in defiance of opposition and hardship, we must all simply engage in beauty in some form, either as a creator or recipient of the arts.


Here are a few ideas to help you get started:


1. Return to an artistic pursuit of your past or pick up a new hobby.

Whether that is through movement, music, writing, creation, or beautification of any kind– allow your soul to create anything as an expression of your emotion.


Remember, the results of your efforts aren’t the main focus. In fact, the art you create could be ugly, messy, or unfinished. That’s okay. Let your art reflect the realities of life, which often happens to be ugly, messy, and unfinished!


The point is to engage in an activity that allows you to express that which you need to process and communicate- even if to or for no one other than yourself.


2. Engage in art as a recipient.

Have you ever been moved to tears by witnessing art? I have! We don’t always have to be the ones creating art to receive the benefits of art.


One of the simplest ways to engage in art as a spectator is to pump the tunes. Play music that resonates with your soul. Perhaps you need a sad ballad to cry with, a crooning melody to get lost in, a funk tune to get your body moving, or a folk melody that transports you back in time. Ask yourself what you need, and put Spotify to work for you to find those tunes!


Maybe music isn’t your thing. That’s okay! Open up YouTube to watch any performing art that speaks to your soul. You can find thousands of dance or music videos of any genre. Some will lift your spirits and others will comfort you in your sorrow. Choose a video for your current mood or need.


If visual art moves you, visit an art museum (even virtually) or print a picture or photograph to display somewhere in your home. Allow the image to fill you with the emotion you receive from the image. It's all about connection, so select an image that grounds you or helps you feel less alone or hopeful in the world.


View of an orchestra on a stage from the audience

3. Share art with your community.

If art touches you in a meaningful way, that same art will likely impact the soul of someone in your personal community. So, as you engage in art that moves you, share it with your community.


The art doesn’t have to be yours to share it (just be sure to give credit to the original artists). You never know who could benefit from coming across the beauty you share with others.


4. Relish in the beauty of mother nature’s art.

If humanity’s art doesn’t impact you, try taking in the beauty of mother nature’s art. (She is our finest teacher!) Take yourself to a place, if only for a few minutes, away from the hustle and bustle of life and the demands of our screens. Discover the healing power of experiencing the fresh air, noticing the intricate details of nature, sitting by a body of water, or marveling at the cycle of life in a forest. Nature frequently inspires the work of artists, so why not take in the beauty of so many artists' muse.


horizontal image of a bridge in the woods

Arts Soothe the Soul

I know I'll never have any of the answers to the complicated issues of today. Engaging in the arts can at times seem trivial and inconsequential compared to the weightiness of the issues of the day.


But it is my belief that art is a defiant act of revolution against the darkness in this world as they soothe the soul, interact with otherwise inaccessible parts of our humanity, and declare that humanity is more resilient than any oppressor.


For this reason, I will continue to create art in my own unique way. I'll continue to perfectly imperfectly play music, write essays and poems, paint with watercolors, and encourage and inspire others to do the same. My hope is that I can bring even the smallest amount of joy, peace, escape, or connection to the fullness of human expression to my audience.


Beyond that, I hope I inspire others to create art as an expression of their human experience in defiance of those who would like to eradicate the spirit of humanity.


I offer this recording as part of my humble contribution toward that end. The Seasons: March by Tchaikovsky Op. 37a


 

Food For Thought:


What is one way you can daily engage in the arts either as the creator or receiver of the art?


Imagine how it would feel to express yourself through the arts or connect to the beauty of the arts when life feels hard and oppressive.


I encourage you to find the space to create, play, laugh, explore, engage in, or experience some form of the arts today. See what beauty and joy find you as a result.


Then, begin to share your art or the art that moves you. Imagine, in sharing, you could be part of making the world a more connected, understanding, and peaceful place.


I truly believe healing can come through art. The arts have always brought my heart solace, may the same be true for you and for society at large.

 

If you would like to enter the revolution through the art of playing the piano, I would be honored to help in the journey.


It is my true joy to bring the joy of music into hearts and homes through personalized remote piano lessons that will leave you feeling connected to the human spirit.


The process is simple:

1. Schedule a call to talk about your goals.

2. Select a lesson time.

3. Take your first lesson!


 

To have these "Insights From The Piano Bench" essays land directly in your inbox, subscribe to my monthly blog digest newsletter. Let's explore what music can teach us about life together.


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