Why Humans Need Art

The first time I had occasion to write the date and time this morning, I immediately thought, “Oh. By this time both of the Towers were down.”

I suppose every American old enough to remember 9/11/2001 has a moment like that. “By this time the first plane had struck.”  “By this time the North Tower was down.”  “By this time the world had changed.”

“9/11 at the World Trade Center,” image from The History Channel website.

I watched a TV video of the second plane hitting the South Tower that day, not long after it happened, and it looked like movie special effects. This can’t be happening was the first reaction for most of us, I think. Reading the sequence of that day’s events still feels like reading the synopsis of a thriller novel–and a rather over-the-top one, at that.

However, no protagonist raced to overcome seemingly-insurmountable odds and defeated personal demons to save the day and stop those planes, as they most likely would have, if it really were a thriller novel.

Real is messy, often brutal, meaningless. Yet humans still grope for meaning. It’s a gut instinct, a reflex, an involuntary response. We react, we grieve, we meditate on what happened. And then we begin to make art.

In large and small ways, consciously and unconsciously, we take our experiences and our understanding of life, and we do this human thing where we take often-meaningless events and within them, within ourselves, we find meaning.

Only a few of us take the extra step of using that meaning-making process to feed the creation of what we call “works of art.” But without that universal human seedbed of meaning-making, no painting would ever be painted, no song written or sung, no story told. 

And no sense ever made of anything.

IMAGE CREDIT: Many thanks to The History Channel Website for the sequence of the plane hitting the South Tower on 9/11/2001.

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jansgephardt

Kansas City-based Jan S. Gephardt is a writer, artist, and teacher. She makes nationally-recognized paper sculpture and writes sf mystery novels about a sapient police dog.

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