Reading time: 3 minutes, 52 seconds.
“Does it love you?” It’s an opposing question to “Do you love your art?” from Elizabeth Gilbert’s book “BIG MAGIC: Creative Living Beyond Fear.” Artists will say, of course, they love their art, the making of art goes to the very nature of who they are. But does art love you back? Now we get into the area of wanting proof. An artist’s life is not easy. It’s fraught with rejection and frustrations. When putting ourselves out there, showing our work, we are at our most vulnerable.
The proof, however, is found in how art pushes you to get better, to hone your style and technique. It wants your time and attention. Art makes you look and see the world, then allows you to interpret it in a thousand-million ways. Art is about tough love, but she wants you to become the best artist you can be because the world will be better for it. We all benefit from the many voices and visions of artists in profound ways. Art gives us hope. We may not always realize that we all need art. Our souls depend upon it.
Since the beginning of civilization as we know it, artists of all disciplines have found their source for ideas and inspiration in nature. When people are asked (not just artists) the question “Do you love nature?” the answer invariably is a resounding “Yes!” Ask the question: “Does nature love you back?” People will stand looking down at their feet. Again, it’s that wanting proof.
It’s the same question Robin Wall Kimmerer, a botanist and an author who teaches environmental biology at the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry in Syracuse, New York, asked her earnest young environmental students, all eager to save the planet. Every student announced they love nature. Not one had evidence to say yes that nature loved them back.
Our problem is we feel nature is indifferent to us. How can we heal a planet with urgency and care when we believe it doesn’t give a damn about us? It’s like trying to love a parent who is cold and distant.
Ancient people, indigenous people, and Native Americans don’t see it this way at all. They have always operated with a sense of being in a reciprocal emotional relationship with their physical, natural environment. Whether they felt that nature was rewarding them or being punished by her, they were in constant conversation with her.
As modern people, we have become so disconnected from nature that we have lost the art of having conversations with her. We are taught to believe nature is separate from us and has no inherent sentience. Yet, there is hope this mindset is changing. People are waking up, wanting to have that conversation and an honest relationship with nature.
I can recall all the moments that nature has gotten me outside of my head, slowed me down, eased my monkey-mind worries and heartache. My proof nature loves me is that if I am patient and still, she will show me her wonders, up close and personal. It’s like she’s saying, “here I am, let’s dance!”
If you want proof that nature loves and cares for you, I found evidence of that working on a project a few years ago for the Minnesota DNR’s Arbor Month Celebration promoting the many health benefits trees provide us. The flip side of this is we are discovering trees have their own emotional lives, communicate with one another, share nutrients and knowledge, supportive interactions are between trees of various species. Trees of one species don’t necessarily compete with other tree species. They all get along.
Now we are discovering and acknowledging that all creatures living on this earth have an emotional life, have relationships, feel pain, and in their way, express love. That understanding may be our doorway to regaining a dialogue with nature. Because we have feelings and are understanding nature herself feels, we can engage in a reciprocal relationship. Nature gives us the seeds, we plant the garden. Having this awareness is fundamental to saving our planet.
However, we are all living amidst a global pandemic. Viruses, grown in a lab or not, are nevertheless organic. They are a part of nature. And nature is dishing out one whopping dose of tough love if there ever was one.
“Our great mother does not take sides, Jake; she protects the balance of life.”
~ Neytiri, Avatar, 2009
Nature is trying to wake us up. Messing with her organisms in a lab, “pulling a Frankenstein,” has serious repercussions. Intending to use her as bio-warfare, she will smack you down hard. Still, I cannot lose sight of the levels of suffering and the thousands of innocent people lost. It’s become a lesson too hard to bear, let alone understand.
I’m learning about the gifts people express the virus is presenting, odd as that might sound. Artists and writers who do a lot of travel for speaking engagements, live performances, book signings are relieved to stop and stay at home. It’s become a great time of reflection, a time many people do not want to go to waste. Families scattered around the country are talking to each other more often than ever before, finding common bonds despite differences. Artists around the world are busy making art to connect us, uplift us, and bring us hope.
Through the thick of it all, winter ended, the weather warmed. Nothing is open but the great outdoors. Nature is there to ease our anxious hearts. Ultimately, we will heal each other.
BIG MAGIC: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert. I’ve personally read it. Her book was cited during the Women’s Art Institute Summer Studio Intensive course at the University of St. Catherine’s that I attended in June 2019.
Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer. Better yet, get check out the audiobook on Hoopla. Hearing Robin read her book is so soothing. It was also helpful to me to hear the pronunciation of native words.
The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate — Discoveries from a Secret World by Peter Wohlleben After reading this book, I haven’t looked at trees the same way since. It’s both entertaining and fascinating.