It’s fascinating that one diminutive, kind of adorable looking three-letter word can be such a force. And for me, an imperative: art.
To me, art has so many forms of expressing the often inexpressible. The unconscious. The hidden. The repressed. A clarifier. A distiller. A concretizer. A revelation. A levity-finder. A gravitas-marker. It is a force that courses through us…setting flight or form to the yearnings and the rages and the devastation and the joys, the blisses and ecstasies, the curiosities and the confounding moments.
Art, in countless forms, is how we express our humanity; how we express our very selves. It gives a welcoming platform to any PART of ourselves that may have no other known outlet.
When I think of art, one of the first things I see in my mind’s eye is COLOR. ALL color. I actually think in terms of color a lot of the time. It’s a language in and of itself, to me. I’ll be working with a collaborator, and I’ll say, “This song is so primary colored … so yellow. I just want to bring in a little more brown and purple to the intro.” I could use the term “diminished chords,” but color usually covers it. When I’m working with a true fellow or compatriot, they get exactly what I am talking about. I don’t have to say much more than that. Such an efficiently soulful mode of communication—one that uses a form beyond words even (although words are by far my favorite).
Not surprisingly, I love various forms of color therapy. It is a gorgeous example of the intersecting nature of art, self-expression, healing, sensing, soothing, and intuition. It also invites us outside of the realm of intellect (although I love when the intellect serves as a siphon for the force that hurls through me when I write: I rely on it). People have often said I have synesthesia, but I don’t know. I know that all my senses lead me to rapture and reflection. And if not rapture, then to something that feels alive. And if not alive, somehow closer to reveling in the magic and picturesque specificities all around me that beg to be captured … that I sometimes lose sight of in my day to day.
Self-expression is a multi-hued-and-toned magic splashed across the movie screen of our lives. Whether it is architectural design or creating games for the gaming community or picking a t-shirt we put on that morning or the lipstick or hairstyle choice we make or going to esthetician school or getting a tattoo or perfume or buying a funny collar for your dog or making music or reciting poetry or writing prose or tapping your foot or choosing a direction or speaking on a stage or having a conversation. To me, it is ALL art. God. Art. Life. Inner child. Essential-self. And gifts being expressed. These words, to me, are interchangeable.
There are so many forms of art that I often feel like a kid in a candy store, sometimes giddy with inspiration, and sometimes doubled over from the aftereffect of feeling as though I’d been hooked up to an IV … and my very life force has been pulled from me. I am often lying on the floor after having written or created. Many collaborators know where to find me after a song or a piece is written—highly likely I will be horizontal. Recovering. It is this delicate balance of a wave that careens through, effortless in its flow, and yet at the same time, often exhausting in its intensity and furor. I do get really overwhelmed at times because there are so many incredible opportunities to express. Certainly not the worst kind of overwhelm.
“WHAT ARE YOU?!!”
When faced with multiplicity and complexity, I understand the left-brain urge to organize and categorize. But for me, it is hard to categorize art. I think one of the most violent things we can do is overly label a genre of any type of self-expression (let alone a person). When Jagged Little Pill first came out, this was the conversation on repeat:
“What genre IS this?”
Wanting to give a real answer, I would think for a moment. But the words “I have no idea” were the only ones coming to me.
“Well are you alternative?”
“Are you pop?”
Um … yup!
“Are you rock?”
“Are you hip-hop?”
“Are you novelty?”
“Well … what ARE you?”
At the crossroads of pushback and vulnerability, the words would slip out of my mouth: “I have no fucking idea! It’s really not my problem!”
Even now, with the book that I am writing, people in and around the publishing field are continue this line of inquiry:
“Well, what category is it going to be in? Where will people find your book on the shelves at bookstores? It’s spiritual, okay, yes. But is it Self-Help? Philosophy? Memoir?
My frustrated response: Fuck me! All of the above! None of the above! I don’t know! I’m not completely anti-categorization. To the degree that categories help clarify and make things accessible, I am all about them. But when they violently reduce an artist, I am so NOT all about them. This is one of the reasons why I am happy to be alive as an artist in 2015. There is much more of an invitation now to be everything. To explore and express all that the many parts of my humanity and my personal tastes wish for me to. This website is a vivid example of how I am no longer relegated (in a reductivist way) to one category—as an artist, as a woman, as a human being. Thank god.
I don’t think any of us can be relegated to ONE thing — one label, one mode of expression, one feeling, one perspective, one way to be. At any given moment, if you were to ask me what I am feeling, I would likely describe four or five feelings. In this moment alone I feel: Excited. Anxious. Zen’d out. Inspired. Mystified. Also, yearnful (not sure that’s a feeling). No way could I reduce these sensations in my body to ONE feeling. Let alone ONE quality.
At one point, I was perceived as singularly “angry”—which, if I am to be one-dimensionalized, I’ll take anger. Not the destructive acting out of anger, but the stunning life force that it is: powerful enough to move worlds and often pull us out of depression. Then I was singularly “spiritual.” But, if you were to ask my husband if I’m always feeling “super spiritual,” he would just chuckle. My point: We are rarely. Ever. ONE. Thing.
Although us being spiritual beings, to me, is what I believe to actually be the “ONE permanent,” as I call it. It seems that being alive invites a multitude of lenses, of perspective-points that bounce off this platform of holiness-in-our-being-here.
ART AND SOCIAL ACTIVISM
I believe that art is inextricably linked with social activism. There is some kind of commentary one is making as an artist, whether that observation happens consciously or by default—commentary on culture, on politics, on interiority, on our humanity, on our consciences, on our consciousness levels—whatever is coming through.
For us sensitive temperament types, it is incumbent upon us to be expressed. Because of how porous we are, we’re often the ones who just might have a glimpse into the future, intuitively sensing into what might be to come. Like the artist-philosophers who have come before us—the Thoreaus, the Anaïs Nins, the Nietzsches—we too might get a subtle temperature read of how our city is getting by, what trend might be coming up around the bend, how our cultural relationality is faring, how our community is thriving (or why it’s not), how our aesthetics might be evolving or at least heading, how the planet might be better loved or supported.
There is often a link between artistry and conscientiousness. At times, art becomes service and commentary by default. One utterance from a beatnik poet, or a piece of prose from Rainer Maria Rilke, or an elegant design-line from Eileen Gray—one poignant (seemingly micro) commentary on a relationship can have farther reaching lights shone on larger political and international issues than even the biggest soapbox wail. Sometimes. All with the flick of a brush or the stroke of a pen or the moving of our hips.
It’s as if god is using us as paintbrushes and talismans and sonographs to MAKE REAL the many narratives that are appearing as “chroniclings of life.” That each of us are Unique Filters that this lifeforce courses through. At varying speeds. Some of our filters are crunchy and strong and baroque-ian. Some of our filters are liquid and sinewy and fluid. Some of our filters are crackling and fluorescent and overt. ALL filters (each of us) responsible for our own flow. Our own daily markings. Our own showings-up.
This is the artistic call. This is the credo of both the lay and the well-known artiste. We trip and fall and the sweat that falls off our brow is a perfect photograph. A perfect captured snapshot for people to define themselves in accordance, across the planet as well as right across from us at the dinner table. No expression is deemed too big or too small in the eyes of life. Every act of art-making is a delighted thank you to god herself for giving us our unique take, our unique rattle, our unique clarion call. Such is the delight of art.
THE BIG OUT-BREATHS: PERFORMANCE AND SELF-EXPRESSION
People will ask me, “Alanis, with your inhabiting all these aspects of yourself now, is music taking a back seat?” No. It is less that music is taking a back seat and more that these other forms are joining the circle, more formally. Less back pocket secret, and more to the fore. Music will always be in my bones. In my muscles. In my soul. No one ever has to worry about me stopping writing songs. Because the songs write ME. I don’t have a choice in whether my door is knocked upon by inspiration. But rather, my choice is about the form: Which form am I prioritizing this day. This week. This month? Whether it is dancing or volunteering or writing or serving in the countless forms that are possible or singing or coming up with curriculum or writing a poem or performing or channeling or speaking publicly or decorating or cooking or parenting or even artfully listening—when one form swells big, another abates. Even brushing my teeth becomes a dance.
Certainly there are the singer-songwriters whose scope happily includes one form, self-admittedly. But If I check under the hood with my fellow artist friends, I find out that my painter friend is an incredible chef. That my photographer friend has a propensity for decorating that is breathtaking. That the person whom I bow down to for their aural knowledge sure knows how to blend ochre paste well. I am not sure I have met anyone, or any artist, who is not multitudinous in their scope, even if it is in private.
Certainly some artist’s intentions and motivations vary. There are those whose focuses are more overtly autobiographical, social commentary, and political commentary. Equally, there are those who are making music to dance and move to, to drift off to, to ascend to, to get down to, to “get up on the dance floor in the CLUUUB…” to. There are those who are imagery-based, whose obtuseness and mystery is their magic. That is why I have never felt a sense of scarcity around there only being ONE throne in music. One award to be won. One crown to wear. There are too many forms. Too many styles. Too many magics to play musical chairs. No one is left seat-less when it comes to art. Perhaps when it comes to public exposure, but never to self-expression or uniqueness. Even those who are overtly-inspired by other artists, there is a still a twinge of inimitability … an aspect of their snowflake that can never be mimicked.
Sometimes with art I wonder: Is this performance; is this an image building? Is this a mask (and masks-as-art can be fun)? Is this a do-or-die expression of self? Is this a call to arms? And sometimes the art form is a combination of two, or all. I have always felt like some element of my blood sweat and tears onstage is creating or extolling or celebrating many personas—or aspects of me, as such. But then at the same time, there is an urgent, breathless self-expression going on. I like when there is an element of each. A combo of missions. Like when the autobiographical merges with comedy, as an example, as it did with Andy Kaufman. Some perform for the sake of sparking something in their audience. Playfully or manipulatively (excruciatingly so). Or making some joyful noise as to revel in the spark within themselves. Or for the sake of being ironic or funny or weird or absurd. Or at times, there is an over-the-top performance intermingling with a substantive message of some kind. I am nothing if not “blend-loving”—for the sake of ears, eyes, taste buds, nose. I am an integration girl, if I am nothing else.
I often think the generating of the art is decidedly FOR ME. And that the sharing of art is an offer for others. To make it their own. To do with it what they will. I love both parts of the create-then-share arc so much.
REBELLION AND SELF-REMEMBERING
In its many forms and guises, art keeps me healthy. Being expressed strengthens my immune system. If I repress, sublimate, or overly contain, I can feel the depletion creeping in. Having been raised in Canada, I was culturally and familial-y encouraged to be polite. Respectful. I was raised on people-pleasing, in the face of patriarchy and cultural norms. This was lovely when there was a relatively presentational form of expression being created. But as soon as I wanted to push my own personal envelope (as a teenager), as soon as I wanted to color beyond all lines that I’d known, I wasn’t always met with support and encouragement.
I was often told that I should never not rhyme, in the way I had begun to in my late teens; that I shouldn’t touch on the topics I was yearning to. That so-n-so would not be happy with my stretching beyond what I’d been known for. But I promised myself, after years of squashing so much of mySELF down, that I wouldn’t stop until I was FULLY expressed. As the full woman that I knew myself to be.
Eventually I found and cultivated such environments. Whether it was with Glen Ballard, or in my own heart and mind, flying in the face of what was expected of me became so commonplace that I scarcely noticed I was doing it anymore. And from THAT place my true artist-self emerged. My own voice. My own narrative. My very own inimitable style. All roads leading up to that point had been requisite links in the chain that became who you may know me to be as an artist.
But it was when I stopped cutting parts of me off, when I stopped hiding, when I stopped being overly measured, and when I stopped worrying about pleasing everyone that I finally found my rightful seat. My rightful artist’s nest. Then came the challenge of: “How can I bring this brazen-ness, the SELF-full-ness, this uninhibited approach into my daily life? Outside of formal art-creating?” This inquiry has fueled so much of my more brave healing moments in relationship. As it turned out, creating art was cathartic, but not healing. I actually had to reach out and lean and connect and trust and risk and communicate with humans (versus writing songs about it) if the healing were to emerge.
Whether the form is musical, or spatial, or mathematical or physical, or intellectual, or linguistic; whether it be through the esoteric or the muscles or the nose or the stomach or the soul, art is home. Art is god. Art is everything to me.