evermore, and other beautiful things

13 December 2020
13 Dec 2020

This is an excerpt from today’s issue of my weekly newsletter.

If all evidence of civilization on Earth was destroyed, and humans had to re-build society from the ground up, what would be different? Feynman reckons that pivotal scientific moments, like the discovery of the atom, will still happen in the same way. Perhaps mathematics will be similarly rediscovered.

Someone told me once in response to this question, no artwork would ever be recreated. The art we create – music, stories, dance, film – isn’t a fundamental element of the universe, or even of humanity. It’s unique to each artist. If you choose to create art, you leave something in the world that has never had a chance to exist before, and will never again have a chance to exist. There will never be another Beatles or Studio Ghibli or Picasso. Art, in its infinite variations of originality, is cosmically unique in a way the sciences will never be. Art immortalizes human experiences that would otherwise vanish in time.

As I’ve contemplated the implications, this idea has profoundly changed how I think about creative work.

If science is an attempt to understand nature, art is frequently an attempt to make sense of human stories. The job of an artist is to explore and discover the world, to feel your own life deeply on your own terms, on behalf of your reader or listener or audience until your glasses become tinted with color, and then to lend those colored lenses to the reader, so they may see the world as you do.

The inimitable Taylor Swift released a surprise album evermore this week (I already have my favorites), and it has me thinking about music and songwriting and storytelling. Her music seems to accumulate stories and memories with a kind of gravity that extends across space and time.

Take a glance at any forum or website breaking down her songwriting, and the discussions and annotations are thick with comments not just making sense of her words, but adding on layers of other anecdotes from her fans about friendship and love and family and heartbreak. Accumulating memories, like a once-in-history cosmic magnet for stories. This is one of the reasons her music lives on in the lives of her fans—her music begins as her own stories, but becomes a place where her fans can reinvent and reimagine them around their own lives, creating a million fractal refractions of the same words and melodies vibrating together in time.

I once ruminated on the responsibility of a [song]writer:

Go out and live a life of color, so that new feelings and insights swirl in your tinted lenses. And when you come back and sit down to spill those colors onto paper, may each action of your key bear those colors. May the action of your words transport your reader to ever more colorful worlds, because that, ultimately, is the job of a writer.

and I think few people in the world color our universe with such poetic patina and warmth than Taylor Swift.

Oh, also, it’s her birthday today! Happy birthday, Taylor.

How do you get so much done?

What does art do?