The month of October is national arts and humanities month. It’s probably a little known month long celebration and recognition for many. I didn’t know about it until someone casually mentioned it in passing, but now that I know, of course I have to write a column about it.
Any art teacher, play director, professional artist or musician, dance instructor, poet, you name it will ramble at length, with or without invitation, about the importance of the arts — how they enrich our lives, move our bodies and souls, awaken our minds, and show us the beauty of the world through the human experience. I’m never bored listening to the eclectic souls speak to why the arts should be the treasure of every culture and society. But more so, I never tire of listening to artists speak to the stories behind their own art.
Friday, Oct. 5 and Saturday, Oct. 6, Windwalker Underground Gallery hosted a slightly different event than the usual weekend musical acts. Caleb Johnson, an illusionist from the Lansing area, came to Windwalker not only to share his tricks and hoodwinks, but also to share his story. It was a journey of family, faith, coming up in the church, and being told he couldn’t be who he always knew he was. Caleb boldly recounted to the audience his story of becoming openly gay in communities that didn’t allow that kind of openness. He spoke of what he’d always known about himself, the mask he conformed his around, the light in himself he finally felt free enough to reveal, all that he lost as a result of coming out, and the new life he found.
Caleb flicked light between his hands, made a table float off the ground, held out a mask to the audience, all to show the symbolism of his story and journey. I was a proud spectator, not only because Caleb is a dear friend and partner of another close friend, but also because he found the way to tell his story that was best for him. Caleb has been an illusionist for many years, but in his journey he hadn’t realized his greatest ruse of all had been hiding his true self, light, and truth. But finally, as all art and performing can, Caleb was able to understand and communicate his story through his craft.
Art is a vessel through which we can understand our experiences and the truth of our existence. So often truth is understood as the concrete block of immovable fact that can only be understood one way by everyone. It’s a pity so many see truth this way. Don’t mistake this reporter, who views fact as the necessary foundation of the concept of truth. But the arts allow us to create imagery that can shape our perception of reality. What if instead of viewing truth as the immovable block, we see it as a great, flowing river, sure and true, full and life giving, yet fluid, and where other rivers of truth empty into?
This month, even if you don’t quite understand the visual arts, or can’t find a taste for poetry, or would rather do just about anything beside sit through a dance recital or opera, try to take some time to honor the arts and humanities in your community. Instead of viewing it as a chore, approach it as an opportunity to see the stories and truths you have not yet known.