I’ve had the privilege of traveling to Russia in the last couple of years. While the Soviet Union as a formal organization is long gone, there are still remnants of Soviet-era culture scattered here and there. Many of the stations in the Moscow Metro are still decorated with the hammer and sickle and images of Lenin and workers based in the Socialist Realism school of art. The purpose behind the images is clear. There is an agenda lying behind what you see and it’s hard to miss it. This was government-sanctioned, utilitarian art at its most obvious. It was art with a purpose.
While I am intrigued and even moved by Soviet-era culture, my favorite works of art are those with no purpose other than to give the beholder an opportunity to enjoy how the artist views the world. The best works of art are those which are simply put out there as a piece of the creator’s soul. Whether it is a painting or a sculpture or a song or a book…I want to soak in those artistic expressions because they exist, not because I need them to get through the day or to move me toward my list of goals for the week. Artistic creations, when we divorce them from an externally imposed agenda, are at their finest when we take the time to simply enjoy them. Human beings are the same.
In my view of the world, I see humanity as a creation that has the fingerprints of a master artist all over it. Like meandering through the halls of an art museum as I take in the unique and varied means of expression, I endeavor to walk through life taking in the unique and varied works of art that are the people I meet. My daily interactions with them are not something I submit to my daily agenda. Every conversation, every question, every moment with them is a path through a living gallery.
Some of the most perplexing people I know give little to no value to art. They don’t know the adventure of a walk through the halls of a well-curated museum. They have little appetite for the auditory feast of today’s music. They see no purpose to spending time experiencing the beauty of a story told through a masterfully crafted film and only read books of a clinical nature. It is as though everything and everyone must serve a purpose and cannot be simply enjoyed.
In his book, “The Four Loves,” C. S. Lewis wrote, “Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art…. It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things which give value to survival.”
I never want the people I am privileged to cross paths with to have to fit into some agenda. When I do that I run the risk of missing out on something. I run the risk of passing up a conversation or a human being that God may have designed to catch me off guard or to cause me to rethink a situation I may be thinking wrongly about. I run the risk of missing out on an interaction that may serve no purpose other than to remind me of the complexity and diversity of humanity. What is worst of all is that I run the risk of surrounding myself with people who think, act, and talk mostly like me. How mind-numbingly boring, sterile and plain vanilla is that? YUCK!
When I engage in relationships because they fit into my agenda I devalue them and make them a tool of survival rather than a privilege of being alive. When I only enter into a relationship because it will serve a purpose I’ve crafted for myself then it is very possible that I could find myself not needing to engage with anyone if I deem them unnecessary to fulfilling that purpose. As my friend Freddy said recently, “Friendship is what makes survival worthwhile.”
To be fair, I have relationships that could be called utilitarian. And like the utilitarian art of the Soviet era they are necessary to achieve common goals. But in the day to day grind those relationships don’t give color to life. They are to the very public and messy and unpredictable journey of life what the Communist images in the Moscow Metro are to the larger artistic universe. They are a reminder of the boundaries imposed on artists when they are directed to express life through another’s lens as opposed to artists who express life through their own lens.
The most interesting and fulfilling art exists at the behest of its creator. It exists not to advance a larger agenda, but to give us a glimpse into the soul of the artist. That painting or that book or that song exists just because.
And the most fulfilling relationships are those that exist outside of agendas and processes and to-do lists. They exist just because.