When Art Touches Your Soul

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It’s entirely possible that I’m alone in what I’m about to write. But, knowing my share of artists, writers, actors, and other creative types, I have a strong feeling that I’m not alone. And if I am alone, then I apologize for saddling you with my personal brand of insanity.

So what’s on today’s menu of brain droppings? Musings on what happens when someone else’s art touches your soul. Or, more specifically, what happens when that art grabs your soul, rips it out, and refashions it in some way so that you are better for it.

At various points in my life, I’ve come across art (be it acting, writing, painting, music, or any other creative endeavor) that has touched something deep within me. Not in an, “Oh, that’s nice,” sense that fades after a day or so. And not in the sense that I can see how technically proficient the work is and admire that proficiency.

It’s more like a bomb goes off in my head and there’s a “Holy shit, I am a different person for having seen/experienced this,” moment. Something about that work shoots to the very core of my being and resonates with me in a way that few other things ever will. I can’t shake it and I will revisit that work as often as possible just to experience it again. The work pulls at me and makes me feel things I’ve never felt. (Feelings which often make zero sense if held up to the harsh light of reality).

Now, me being me, this usually leads to a weeks long immersion in that person’s other work. Doesn’t matter if they’re alive or dead for hundreds of years. I will read all their books, watch all their movies, find all the “B” sides of their music, dig through interviews, biographies and archives, all in an effort to learn all I can about that person and their work.

It took me years to figure out what this obsession was really about. It was more than just being a fan. Fandom is great, but this is something deeper, something that feels personal. Which is nuts because I don’t know these people in any sense of the word. But I wanted to. Needed to, in fact. At least in some limited way.

I finally cracked it. It’s an attempt to figure out why this person and their work could touch me so deeply. What is the common thread? Why this person? What led to the creation of that work? Is there something I can pinpoint and possibly use in my own work that it might, in turn, touch someone’s soul as I have been touched?

Soul Music

Sadly, I don’t think I’ve ever found what I’m looking for. The reason why the work resonates on such a deep level remains a mystery. (Which, in some ways, is probably good. Life is better with a few mysteries and things like serendipity and spiritual connections are probably best left to the ages.)

I’ve often wondered if it’s as simple as this: Perhaps people operate on different frequencies. If I were into new age mysticism, I might be able to figure that out. But if that’s the case, perhaps the people whose work touches our souls are on our personal frequency. Not that we’re soul mates. Certainly not. There are plenty of people whose work has touched my soul that I don’t think I’d want anything to do with in real life. But perhaps, somewhere, somehow, we are fashioned out of the same batch of stardust and we recognize that in the work.

I don’t know.

But still… That connection is there. Mysterious though it may be.

Weirdly, (or maybe not so strange, really) this bomb seems to go off after great personal trauma. I don’t think I’ve ever had a work blast through my soul when things are going great for me and I’m super happy. It seems to happen during times of great stress or grief. Maybe it’s just my soul looking for something else to latch onto, to focus on something other than the pain. Or, perhaps things are more open at that point, my defenses having been ripped to shreds by grief and pain.

That’s certainly the case with my current “soul project” as I’ve taken to calling it. I’m not going to name names, but I recently encountered a lesser known work by a well-known (now deceased) actor. I’d seen him in many other projects, but there was something about this little role that caused the “holy shit” moment. Well, the doors blew off and the binge began. I’ve tracked down just about every other movie of his, his interviews, and even some offbeat stuff he did like appearing in music videos.

Soul colors

Predictably, while I’ve enjoyed the journey, I’m no closer to figuring out the connection. Also predictably, not every role has resonated in the same way. Some have, some haven’t. But there’s no denying that there is something about this man’s work that speaks to a part of me that few others have.

I want to know why, and I know I never will. (I secretly hope that there’s a place in the afterlife where I’ll get to meet this handful of people and say thank you.)

This year has been full of pain. Deaths and losses have come fast and furious. (And please don’t remind me that five months remain in the year. I don’t want to hear it.) My defenses are down and I’ve been at a low ebb. Having this magical moment has been a saving grace, of sorts. It has, indeed, given me something else to focus on, another way to channel energy that needs to be released in some way other than crying and raging at the universe. Had I seen this work at some other time, it might not have hit me so hard. But that’s part of the mystery, isn’t it? Sometimes life gives us things when we need them, not when we want them or are even prepared to make use of them.

After this binge is over, I’ll move on. Life will continue in its predictable fashion until the next soul moving moment comes along. And I’ll be just as gobsmacked as I was the first time it happened because I guarantee that the work will hit an entirely different part of my soul. But I’ll be grateful because every time this happens I gain a greater understanding of myself and my work.

I may never figure out the why of these moments, but they change me for the better. I come away from the binge exhausted, but knowing more about how others work and what makes their work great. Perspective as an artist is a wonderful thing. When someone else’s work touches my soul, it always rips me apart only to put me back together a little better than I was before. And while I’ll likely never meet most of these people, I still owe them a big thank you for the experience.


(Photos courtesy of vorsprung, thatpalletguy, hans)

1 thought on “When Art Touches Your Soul

  1. Pingback: Why We Grieve For People We Didn't Know (And Why It's Okay) | Jennifer Derrick

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