I was having a shitty day. I woke up feeling down with the blahs, and looking down the barrel of a work day loaded with screen-based conference calls. My first instinct isn’t to crawl back under the covers, it’s to crawl under the bed. I’m old enough to realize that the real monsters aren’t hiding under my bed…
During my lunch hour, I pulled up YouTube looking for something fun to watch that would clear out the work doldrums, as a palette cleanser before the next wave of meetings. While digging around the internet depths, I stumbled on a reaction video for Rush’s epic song, 2112. I clicked on it and spent the next 20 minutes watching KiraWasAReactor discover the mighty 2112 for the first time. Why would I spend time watching a video someone listening to a song that I’ve heard a bazillion times? Because it’s a joy to watch another person react to something that I love dearly! The pure joy on her face brought a huge smile to my face, and instantly washed away my depression.
As I watched the video, I couldn’t help but listen to the masterful lyrics written by the late, great Neil Peart, the drummer and lyricist of RUSH.
I won’t go into the full story of 2112—you should experience it yourself—but here’s the gist of it: the story takes place in the far future, where music and art no longer exist. It’s implied that they were banished because they are forms of self-expression. A man wanders into a cave and finds an ancient guitar and is astonished by the beauty of the sounds he makes with the instruments. When he brings the guitar to the elders, they tell him that there’s no room in their ‘enlightened’ society for such foolish things. Deeply depressed, the man takes his life…he’d rather die than live in a world without the beauty of music.
Extreme? Maybe, but that brings me to the point of this blog post. What would it like to live in a world with out art?
Art pervades every aspect of our lives in both obvious and not-so-obvious ways. That painting hanging in the Louvre was created by an artist, but so was that tacky $10 lamp sold by Walmart. We’re surrounded by subtle art in furniture designs, movie posters, food labels, and murals. Whether you notice (or not) the enigmatic carpeting that snakes up and down hotel hallway lengths, someone went through the process of creating a pattern.
The music we love soundtracks of our lives. It lifts us up when we’re sad and imprints itself on the most meaningful times in our lives. When not we’re pumping playlists into our earbuds, we’re listening to music thats broadcast over the radio and pumped through speakers in every department store, gas-station, and public bathroom around the globe. Bopping along to a good beat in Target makes us likely to spend more money. We recognize lyrics in our lives and know the commercial jingles to ads that were pervasive in our formative years.
On a grander scale, art and music are universal languages. Back at the Louvre, we may not speak French, but we can all admire the same Mona Lisa and that devious smile. A rock band from the UK can sell out stadiums in Brazil, and while the languages don’t overlap, crowds can sing along, rhythmic heartbeat pulses keeping time with one another.
What would it be like to live in a world without art? It’s a world without color. Imagine walking through a newly built office building. Empty grey room of drywalls, bland carpeting, and buzzing light fixtures for sound. There’s no ambiance, and no discernment from one thing to the next. It’s a sea of same.
Let’s be real, there’s no way that art would completely disappear. It’s currently an impossibility within the rules of our universe and more likely reserved for an episode of Black Mirror. Creativity is bound deeply within our souls and keeps us anchored to this earth.
Rush isn’t the only band to write about a future where art is either censored, illegal or non-existent. The novel Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury deals with book burning. Frank Zappa’s Joe’s Garage depicts a future where music is illegal. All of these stories are different in the telling, but all of them serve as a warning about the censorship of art. When you censor art, you censor free expression because both are inexorably tied together. And censoring art may not lead us to a future with no art, but it will lead us to a future where art is less challenging and safer than what we are used to in a free society.
I was having a shitty day, and then something as simple, yet as utterly crucial, as a song lifted me up.
Has art ever lifted you up? If so, comment below or tap that heart!