The Art of the Real: Turning Trash into Treasure

Let’s face it. Our systems are failing us. They were founded on an unsustainable false premise that some people were inherently of higher worth while others were inherently of lesser worth. And the reality is that this is an inherent lie destined for collapse. We can do everything we can imagine to prolong the inevitable. But there are limits to this imagination. And we are fast approaching this limit.

If there’s one thing I can say I agree with some people on, it is the possibility that America might be teeter tottering on the edge of collapse. I know that probably sounds pretty fatalistic and morose. But, we have to face the facts. Everything that can go wrong with a country is on the rise in America. And sadly, there doesn’t seem to be much incentive for too many folks to put in the internal work to redeem it.

Yes there are some of us who came together to hit the snooze button on the alarm warning us that it was almost time for our appointment for us to reap what we’ve sown. But, if we don’t do something with this little reprieve besides get back in the bed and pull the covers over our heads, there’s going to be very little hope for us to set a course correction that minimizes the damage from the impact we’re headed for. So what can we do to soften the blow? The short answer is art. Hence, “The Art of the Real”.

Art, at its highest expression, challenges us to go both within ourselves and beyond ourselves creating relational space for us to join with others in a greater appreciation for what is humanly possible. If this doesn’t make sense, consider how great musical artists have produced works that drew in people from all walks of life into a place of mutual appreciation. And of course, it’s not just music. Paintings, poetry, pottery and other creative expressions that don’t start with the letter p have all done their part to foster appreciation of and for the other people’s powers of perception, perspective, and perspicacity 😅. All of which contribute to the artist’s capacity to create works that invite us into their worlds and imagine the possibilities of what untapped resources dwell within us just seeking the opportunity for expression.

Think about a movie that inspires you or the artistic genius of an athlete displaying poetry in motion. Now, don’t those experiences call into the depths of your being revealing an imaginative wellspring from which you could quench your thirst for meaning? That is because of the universal truth that what we witness in others in some degree resides within us as well. The only problem is that for most of us, buying into our polarized cultural contexts coaxes us into surrendering our imaginative capacity to what is socially “acceptable”. As a result, shortly after we feel inspired, we get automatically triggered and remind ourselves to stay in our lane. Art invited us to expand. But culture demands that we contract. And ninety-nine times out of 100 we do.

Conditional Appreciation

Earlier I mentioned that in America, our systems are built on the false premise that some people were inherently of higher worth while others were inherently of lesser worth. Well, in such a transactional system as this, perceived worth translates directly to social appreciation. So just as when we say an investment appreciates it means its worth or value increased, if someone is perceived as being of lower worth, they are seen as depreciating. And in this social system, where most people are treated like commodities, there are a bunch of us that get sold short because the system is betting on our failure. But what the people who are overly invested in this system don’t get is that, because we are inextricably woven together as Dr. King taught, when people try to keep any of us down they inevitably keep all of us down. This is something that deep down almost everyone knows.

Consider these words of Thomas Jefferson, divided minded as he was, who once said:

Indeed I tremble for my country when reflect that God is just: that his justice cannot sleep for ever: that considering numbers, nature and natural means only, a revolution of the wheel of fortune, an exchange of situation, is among possible events: that it may become probable by supernatural interference!

And in his last public letter he declared:

“All eyes are opened, or opening to the rights of man. the general spread of the light of science has already laid open to every view the palpable truth that the mass of mankind has not been born, with saddles on their backs, nor a favored few booted and spurred, ready to ride them legitimately by the grace of god.”

In other words, even back in the day, one of our founding slave owners knew that the logic being used to justify the illogical was ludicrous. And yet, because he benefited astronomically from the system he helped create he, along with many others intentionally sowed tares along with wheat leaving future generations to do the reaping. But as wisdom teaches us, when this is done, there is a chance that that tares will choke out the life of the wheat and thereby put the future harvest at risk.

And so that’s where we find ourselves–very close to being choked out by the weeds of a depreciating culture. America is not far from being trashed. But here again is the power of art. Art can use virtually anything as a canvass, as an instrument, as a possibility to express beauty where there once was nothing. It can raise our standards and even create new ones. It can hold us accountable and it can make us question our assumptions. And even when art is used to display the pain and tragedy of this world, it at the same time reminds us that it doesn’t have to be this way if we could just get creative enough.

Below is an example of art accomplishing its higher potential from an organization called Emancipation Theater out of Denver, Colorado. In this music video, these men take their creativity to call attention to issues in their community. When their other attempts to makes statements were filtered out by social media, they got creative using their art to all us into ourselves and beyond ourselves. I invite you to take the time to hear their message, let it do its work in you, and share it.

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