Have you ever been watching a movie or play, or read a book and stopped in awe because you realized the author was speaking directly to you? That their work, while not directed at your own life or situation, was a reflection of the themes, struggles, and adversities you too have experienced?
This is art at its finest.
The inspiration for art is taken from the world around the artist. It could be events that have happened directly to them, it could be a theme that transpired in their own life that propelled them to produce the piece of art in the first place.
Marcus Aurelius was no stranger to art. His tutor, Diognetus, was a Stoic philosopher and painter who taught Marcus about philosophy and art. Marcus’s years and dedication to learning taught him a lot about the arts and he had a great respect for them. It is why he probably reminded himself of how art is just a reflection of life when he wrote to himself in Meditations :
There is no nature which is inferior to art, the arts imitate the nature of things.
What is so important about art is that it breaks down our mental walls for advice and guidance. Through an allegory or story, we are transported to a world which shows us key insights, strategies, and guidance into situations which are all too familiar to our own lives. It creates a bond between us and the art, and allows that art to seep into our psyche and help teach us the lessons which are buried within the motifs.
Most of us would ignore advice that was just handed to us. For the most part, it is a natural reaction to reject help and we’ve all done it before. The problem is, by listening to other people’s advice without the right mindset, our ego takes hold. We do not want to reveal that we’re not perfect. This of course is ridiculous because no one is perfect, regardless of what they project. But we refuse to show vulnerability. We do not want to look weak. We do not want to seem as if we need the assistance of someone else for a situation we ourselves are in because it makes it seem as though we are less than what we are. But it is this vulnerability, in fact, which connects us to others. It is by shutting down the ego and lowering our defenses to admit we need help which binds us to one another.
But alas, the majority of us do not do this. It is scary to be vulnerable. It is daunting to be open, to expose ourselves to others’ opinions. We hear words in our head such as “what if they don’t accept me?” or “what if I am not good enough?” We’re afraid of losing a hold on our life to an extent. We spend so much time trying to create the perfect image of our life for others to see. We only put the best photos on social media, we only try to tell the best stories with our friends, we only try to talk about topics which we know people will be interested in, even if there is more we want to share.
When we suffer in life, we tend to isolate the problem and project it out into the future. A situation which is momentary can suddenly become life-long in our mind.
Art is there to pierce this ill-fated veil of life which prevents us from seeing the truth behind our problems. It is the mirror to the world. It reminds us that we’re not alone, that others too have experienced the same events, the same emotions, the same situations you yourself have or are, experiencing and as we discussed here about community, this is necessary in life. Maybe it is not the same exact situation, maybe the players are different, but the struggles you face have been faced by others before you and will be faced by others after you. Art helps to bridge this gap within all of us and reminds us that we’re not alone. It provides a path, guidance in a noise polluted world.
Art allows us to be transported to another world, to see common problems we face and portrays them in a medium which does not harm us but allows us to observe, as an audience, the lives and situations of the characters. We can see how these characters handle their situations, what they did right, what they did wrong.
And this is why we lean into art. This is why art is so important to the soul. Through art, artists are able to clearly share their inner emotions, turmoils, loves, hates, and ideas. But why discuss the importance of art with Stoicism? Because art is not only the mirror of life, it is the mirror of the soul. Through it, we are able to better see and reflect upon our own lives and situations. Your brain works in the background to break down that story and absorb the themes, meanings, and actions of the art and allows you to digest it and then potentially apply it to your own life.
Art is a mirror to the lives we live. The next time you are watching something, or reading a story, ask yourself, is there something I can take from this? Try and find the parallels between the art and your own life, and see if there is any wisdom and guidance you can gleam.
Life creates art, but art finds ways to help us truly live.
We’ve enlisted the help of Marcus Aurelius, Epictetus, and Seneca to assist us in providing even more additional guidance to help you live your most virtuous life. Want to see what wisdom they have to provide? Complete the form below and join our private monthly newsletter. Oh, and did we mention there’s also free goodies for signing up?