The great Sam Shepard died this week at the age of 73. So young. He gifted us with 44 plays and dozens of films and television performances. What a bounty of treasures to experience again and again.
I found this Sam Shepard quote when reading more about this incredible body of work that he leaves behind. I was so delighted to find it, because it felt like seeing a Big Feeling I have always felt in the form of a few well chosen words, for the very first time.
Art is messy. There are vague road maps that artists have used throughout time, yes. But there's no surefire formula that can guarantee catharsis, transformation, or sparkling success every time. I suspect that this is because art is made by humans, about the very essence of what it means to be human. If we have not been able to perfect a roadmap for becoming the perfect person, then how can we expect to be able to write the perfect play?
Art is not like chemistry, where we can read a recipe for a chemical reaction, combine the ingredients, and make it happen. Art has its own chemistry that cannot be created by following a series of steps. Cut and dry it is not. We make art in order to figure out the things we cannot understand, to try to make sense of the tangled mess of life as best we can, and in the process, discover glints of beauty and truth and love. So how could it possibly be that the very art we create to make sense of the chaos could be devoid of chaos itself? Impossible. To accept the chaos of art, of the theatre, is to accept the chaos of life. To accept the chaos of life is also to accept the chaos of art. The flawed relationship between the two works perfectly.
I suppose I also ask myself, if it were even possible to nail down a formula that works every damn time, what kind of an experience would that be? If we could wrestle something as slippery as life down to a science, what use would we have for art? For exploration? For the very wrestling itself? Who loves finding a flawless painting, play, or poem? My heart thrills at catching sight of a brush stroke, finding the touch of red that destroys perfect symmetry, speaking a line of language whose radiance is in it's roughness. Maybe embracing the chaos will help us find a kind of clarity.
From where I stand, Sam Shepard wrestled with life and art and wrestled with them well. That struggle is the reason why his creations breathe and move and are so real to us. His characters, both as actor and playwright, are illuminated from within not despite, but because of their flaws and shortcomings.
Let us all find the grace and self-awareness and compassion to be able to glimpse our own wrestling match in this way, even if just for a moment. It might make all the difference.