language / arts / 2
I've been listening to my namesake band R.E.M. lately, and as always happens when I begin to enjoy something, I've become a bit fixated on them. My father sometimes says that I wasn't given my name only so my initials would match, but I know how big a fan he is. I've read and watched a handful of interviews with the lead singer and lyricist, Michael Stipe, and one thing he said has stuck with me. Sean O'Hagan writes:
He speaks quietly in small, quick flurries of words that often do not cohere into sentences. "I find myself often at a loss for words," he muses at one point. "There are TV shows I don't go on because I do not talk like that, I don't think like that, I don't debate like that. I've realised that to try and slot myself into that world is to diminish what I have to offer. And I do have something to offer but it's just in a different dialect, a different language."
I've thought a lot about art as language. You have to learn the grammar to some degree, but aside from basic ability, there aren't a lot of prerequisites for speaking it. There are, in fact, no prerequisites for understanding. Though I am always a big fan of non-required research, the reality is that you don't need to know a single thing about color, light, painting or history to be moved by a 17th-century portrait.
All art is speech, regardless of its language. It's all expression of the same desire, whatever desire it may be that drives us to create and share with others. I love what Stipe said because so many otherwise creative people are so intimidated by the language that they never follow through with what they want to say. The beautiful thing is that if you don't know the language, or if you don't like it or cannot understand it, you can just create your own.
But never forget that you have something to offer. You do have something to say, and you have an obligation to say it, because no one else will ever say it the same way. If you don't want to slot yourself into the world that already exists, create a new one. Think of all the trails that would be left un-blazed if it weren't for people like you and me.