art & risk

Fundamentally, risk is not about uncertainty or courage; it is about danger.  And aside from actual physical harm, most of the things we consider dangerous feel threatening because they challenge longstanding notions about our identity.  I can't start a business, because if it fails, I myself am a failure.  I can't give more because money is my security blanket.  I can't  change careers because what if I hate my new one too?  Who am I then? A friend and colleague wrote these words in a letter many weeks ago: "We know there is always risk with projects that have the capacity to change our souls."  Things that do a lot of good or create a lot of change, things that shape our identities: these are the risky ones.

Last night, as a teacher of mine was honored for distinctive contributions to arts education, he said to the audience:

One of the lessons the arts have taught me is that without risk, there is no growth.  Art always involves risk-taking, and taking risks requires us to let go of safety and security and some of those things we hold dear.

All creative work -- efforts which make something of very little or nothing at all, from art to business to altruism -- demands that we take a gamble.  It requires us to take stock of our values, asking ourselves whether comfort and familiarity matter more than innovation and progress.

For some people, this proposition is just a cliche, and the answer will be a resounding no.  But we all live with that question -- if I do this, then who am I? -- every day.  We can choose to explore it, and to embrace the change that it requires.  Most times, living with change is not a choice, but acknowledging and enjoying it always is.

I began writing this blog more than two years ago with a line from Nicole Krauss' indescribable The History of Love in mind:

Now that mine is almost over, I can say that the one thing that struck me most about life is the capacity for change.  One day you’re a person and the next day they tell you you’re a dog.  At first it’s hard to bear, but after a while you learn not to look at it as a loss.  There’s even a moment when it becomes exhilarating to realize just how little needs to stay the same for you to continue the effort they call, for lack of a better word, being human.

Safety is a myth.  To be human is to take risks and to be changed because of them.