the arts

Graffiti art in Dusseldorf, Germany

Plain Talk: Art and music can open your brain to new ways of thinking about life…and that’s what philosophy is…how we think about life.  The Kimmie Factor decreases when we explore art and music.  Read on…

The abstractions of philosophy throw students for a loop.  The subject seems so “out there”, “irrelevant to daily life”, and comments like “it won’t help me do my job as a nurse in the ER” abound.  Philosophy, for many nursing students, reminds me of my very needy, maladjusted, quirky grade school classmate, Kimmie (not her real name), who followed me everywhere.  I felt sorry for her, but I was so ill at ease with her following me.  I wanted her to go away and quit bothering me with her weirdness.  I just didn’t know how to handle her.  Instead of trying to find out who she really was, I kept her at arm’s length, just far enough I could politely ditch her, or I could welcome her into a conversation.  Just as long as I could control the interaction.

Tackling philosophy reminds me of the difficulty in befriending the awkward people in our lives.  It is not an easy task.  You lose your sense of control.  It takes your mind to an uncomfortable place, to a new way of thinking, where there is no GPS to ease the discomfort of this strange, unknown location.  Likewise, abstraction  can be intimidating when we have nowhere to anchor ourselves.  It’s easier to remain indoors and not answer the door, than it is to invite Kimmie into our lives.  We greatly dislike that loss of control for dealing with weirdness.  It’s what I call the “Kimmie Factor”.

Have you ever noticed how the arts & music crowd seem more philosophical in their conversations?  I don’t think it’s coincidental.  Art, music, and philosophy have much in common.  Some of you would respond, “Duh, those people are all weird, and impractical.”  I get that.  I once thought that, too.

The Kimmie Factor may well be limiting you from seeing the beauty of philosophy.  Is the Kimmie Factor preventing you from self-evaluation of your own life philosophies?  The Kimmie Factor puts us in an uncomfortable position where we can try our darndest at avoidance like I did, or the Kimmie Factor can be just the challenge you need to at least consider your own views.  On one level, you know that the Kimmie Factor demands attention.  I knew that befriending Kimmie was the right thing, but my own discomfort scared me off from a deeper relationship with her, something I regret now.  I wasn’t mean to her, but my neglect and minimal engagement when I knew better, was probably more of my loss than hers.

Philosophy has a strong Kimmie Factor.  It’s weird, and those old philosophers are so “out there”.  Who cares, after all?  Consider the job of philosophers.  They can’t quit asking questions about why we’re here, why we do what we do, why we think what we think, and what is the meaning of life.  Finding words for that is hard.  You are not so different because you and your friends talk about what life is like and why and why people do the things you do.  Those old philosophers were likely interesting guys, and every now and then, they were probably ordering pizza and hanging out with friends.  Shoot, they might have even had a real life, and owned a great dog!

You can decrease the Kimmie Factor by visiting art museums, attending art shows, and talking to artists.  When you expose your mind to many and varied types of art, you begin to think a little more “out of the box” abstractly.  Your mind will begin to acquaint your thoughts with an array of possibilities as to how these thoughts and beliefs might be organized.  It stretches you, you grow, you see life more full of possibilities, not only for yourself, but for the human race.

Exposure to good music also decreases the Kimmie Factor.  However you define what constitutes “good music”, the takeaway here is that the complexity of music and how it engages both sides of our brains, is a splendid way to increase your capabilities to thinking philosophically.  Music invades all parts of your brain.  Even the math side (yes, there’s hope for the mathaphobes).  It is not uncommon for brain-injured and stroke victims to retain the ability to sing all the verses of a song, yet not be able to communicate well verbally.  This happened to Gabby Giffords, the Congresswoman from Arizona who was shot in the head in January 2011.  She is regaining her speech through singing  Don’t limit yourself to a few types of music.  Listen with intention across genres. (Get the free Pandora for your computer so you can freely explore genres and artists without a financial outlay.)

Art, music, and philosophy have this commonality:  They are all ways of interpreting our world and feelings, a type of “sense-making” to provide us with a sense of coherence, meaning, and significance.  The Kimmie Factor imprisons you from seeing what you could be seeing, from feeling what you could be feeling, from thinking in different ways that would enhance your life.

Start today to decrease the Kimmie Factor.  Step outside your comfort zone.  Explore a topic of interest but go beyond what you usually seek out.  Look at the topic in philosophy, in art, in music, and other disciplines as well.  University and college fine arts departments are very good venues for the novice, due to the low cost and immense variety of music, dance, and art forms. Art exhibits change frequently, so you can go to the sculpture exhibit, modern art, the graphic design exhibit (one of my favs), etc.  Another venue I like are the little coffee shops, bars, and out-of-the-way places where the average Joe has his art displayed, and live music abounds to be enjoyed over coffee or drinks.  During free time at home, explore, or find new and upcoming artists.  View wholesome art/music videos on YouTube and Vimeo.

A good example of how art, music, and philosophy converge in video can be found in the Kony2012 documentary produced by Invisible Children, an advocacy group for the 30,000 children abducted, killed, and mutilated by Joseph Kony, leader of the LRA for 26 years running, has created a short documentary-gone-viral for the goal of ensuring the arrest of this man who is the #1 most wanted man in the world by the International Criminal Court.  The film is a superb creation of art, music, and a unique strategy for social action to bring Jospeh Kony to justice.  As you view it, think about how all these elements of art, music, and philosophy are composed to convey a set of life values (philosophy) and how those elements argue for a certain philosophy of life that values children, engages an idea of global responsibility in the sanctity of life, and of using technology for maintaining the rights of the voiceless.  The deeper value conveyed in this film is our responsibility to our fellow man.

The Kimmie Factor nearly prevented me from a life-enhancing evening.  Despite my love of music, my Kimmie Factor was loud and insistent that a percussion music performance would be the worst way to spend an evening.  Who would want to listen to drums and xylophones all evening?  <groan……..>  The Kimmie Factor wanted to reinforce my belief this was going to be like a high school trap drum solo.  But I had to go because my college-age daughter said it would be wonderful and you have to say ‘yes’ to these things.  Turns out it was a fabulous experience, especially the 17 large, native drums. The Kimmie Factor is easier to confront when you go with a friend.

Engage with people outside your familiar circle of friends.  Take someone with you.  Do this regularly and soon the Kimmie Factor will be a thing of the past.  (I promise you won’t develop an exponential weirdness factor in the process).

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