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  • Writer's pictureAlyse Castillo

Vulnerability and Art

What was a life-changing piece of art for you?

What did you see or hear or read that moved you? Was it “Landslide,” by Fleetwood Mac? Did you listen to it on repeat while sobbing into your pillow after your first break-up? Was it “When Harry Met Sally?” Did you sit around the tv with your best friends, shouting at Billy Crystal when he walked away from Meg Ryan because you’ve all been that girl who was “a mistake?” Did you watch “Lemonade” and feel all the pain, anguish, and catharsis that comes with finally forgiving a partner who has betrayed you?

One of the most profound connections I’ve had to art recently is the book of poetry by Rupi Kaur, “Milk and Honey.” It put feelings into words for me in a way that helped me identify issues I was working through that I didn’t even know I was an issue.

you were a dragon long before
he came around and said
you can fly

you will be a dragon
long after he’s left

I wept.

Uncontrolled sobs. In my tub. That’s too small for me to actually be taking baths in, but my back hurts and epsom salts help so I make due. A grown woman, weeping to herself, saying, “You are a ARE a dragon, babe,” to herself over and over again. I owe a lot of healing to that book, to the woman who wrote it. The vulnerability she shared was a gift.

Vulnerability is the key to connection.

It is something we’re sorely missing in today’s landscape. Everyone has girded their loins and is ready for battle. I have so many friends who are angry and tired, and because of that they lash out at anyone who doesn’t agree with them. While I agree that there should be no tolerance of bad behavior, what we need right now is not anger, it’s vulnerability.

It takes a lot of energy to be vulnerable, it’s counter-intuitive to everything we’re taught. I’m also finding that it’s impossible to connect with people and cultivate mutual empathy if everyone refuses to allow people to see or know that they’ve been hurt. I’ve been hearing “I’m not responsible” a lot lately. I’m not responsible for other people’s feelings. I’m not responsible for other people’s ignorance. I’m not responsible for educating people.

These are good mantras if you’re the kind of person who internalizes the behavior of others, but largely these things are used to exonerate our own bad behavior towards people who have hurt us. While it's true that you can't control how others react, to say that you have zero accountability for how your actions affect the world is...well, it's irresponsible.

We are responsible for the society we have helped create, and until we acknowledge that we all had a role in getting here, we can never hope to go somewhere better. We are responsible for the things we say and how those things affect people, both good and bad. When the things we say uplift and inspire, we get to take credit for that, we get to wear that with pride. Likewise, when we say things that divide or hurt, we must take credit for that as well. We are responsible for the energy we put into this world and how that energy manifests in others. We have to hold ourselves accountable for the world we have all helped create; we are all on the hook for where we are and how we handle it going forward is, in fact, our responsibility.

“I have every right to be angry. But I do not have the right to spread that anger.” - Hannah Gadsby

It is okay to be angry. It is okay to express that anger. It is not okay to weaponize that anger. We need to express anger in a way that bridges gaps, not in a way that widens them. We need to make art that brings people together instead of ripping people to shreds in comment sections. Art is creating something, it’s a building block, not a hammer. It’s a dinner table, not a war zone.

Art seeks to build empathy, it’s raw and bare and vulnerable; it shows us the humanity of it’s creator. I understand the kind of mental and emotional energy that goes into being vulnerable, I know what a burden it is. But as artists, if we cannot carry that burden right now maybe it isn’t our turn to speak. The world desperately needs us to step up and be the bigger person, do the thing that’s unfair to ask which is to show love and mercy and grace to people who absolutely do not deserve it. It’s to share our stories and experiences with people who do not appreciate it in an attempt to help them understand something they are so far removed from. If we want to end the cycles of violence, we need to invest in the belief that love can permeate hate and our art needs to reflect that.

Gone is the age of masturbatory prose, self-indulgent story-telling, and self-interested vitriol. It is the dawn of the meek; it is time for the marginalized to share their power and their pain with the world. It is a time for grace and forgiveness.

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