Saturday, February 4, 2012

Art is my religion - I could die for that

When I worry that I'm wasting life being too introspective, thinking too much about the meaning behind art, I comfort myself in knowing that if this is all there is at least I'll have experienced the greatest joy on earth.

I've had a lot of doubts about faith. When my mom had a stroke I was only 11 and my first thought was to turn to God. My sister gave me a small token and told me to pray on it and things would improve. I believed her. And for the most part she was right.

Before my mom's passing when I was 15, my life returned to relative normalcy and even after she passed away I was able to fall back into a comfortable routine with a doting father and other loving relatives. But somewhere in those four years from losing my mom to a stroke to losing her permanently, I lost something else. I lost belief.

In exchange for organized religion, I embraced a new kind of belief system - I believed in the beauty and necessity of art. I started watching movies and television programs religiously. I took afternoons and evenings to lie back in my bed and listen to music, letting it transport me to another world that was miles away from my pampered Orange County existence.

My photo of John Keats' statue at Guy's Hospital in London.
My favorite poet, John Keats, once said, "The excellency of every art is its intensity, capable of making all disagreeable evaporate."

In my years of transition from childhood to teen-dom, I took this concept in all seriousness. In doing so, I discovered how Keats had summed up all that I felt about the world.

When I'm sad, depressed, lonely, upset, angry, or even ecstatically happy, the complement to my feelings is always a song. I make playlists with names of moods. YouTube and iTunes are filled with random conglomerations of music and videos with titles like "Over It," "Dance Dance,"or "Rain Music." According to my mood (anger, enthusiasm and calm respectively), these are some of the mixes of my days.

Great art can make me feel the way religion never could. God may have been a comfort to me in the worst moments of my life, but as time went on the effect grew weaker and less visceral. My heart no longer swelled with the intense passion of belief when I prayed.

That feeling that reciting prayers gave me as an elementary schooler was replaced by the emotions that welled up when I heard songs like "What I Did For Love?" from A Chorus Line, and those feelings were no longer comparable.

Regardless of how I feel now, what I listen to, or the value of religion in my life, my true belief system resides in the way that art makes me feel. I now feel that belief in the unknown resides in the senses, not necessarily that you can hear or see it, but that you can feel it in your heart.

I asked my dad over winter break if he ever gets the feeling that his heart is sinking when he listens to a song. After a moment of reflection, he admitted he'd never felt that way.

Half of what I know about myself is controlled by my feelings, not my mind. When I'm nervous, I shake and grow cold. When I'm jealous, a chill runs down my spine. When I feel passion, belief and least resistance, my heart sinks.

Art is one of the very few parts of life that ever makes my heart sink. And while I refuse to make any final decisions about anything concerning an afterlife, I do concede to knowing that if there is meaning to this world that it resides somewhere in that feeling.

John Keats wrote in a letter to the love of his life, Fanny Brawne, "Love is my religion - I could die for that." I may never find a love for whom I would willingly be martyred, but if anything, art is my religion - I could die for that.

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