The Necessity of Art
Full disclosure: This post is directly inspired and owes its existence to a little article written by Sunjae Lee, artist, musician, and doctor of both Chinese and naturopathic medicine, who truly lives what he preaches, as an inspiration to the rest of us. Here at Happy Goats, we have been very fortunate to have his beautiful creations grace the cover of our books, which I have received many sweet comments about. The pictures in this blog post come from Sunjae's blog, and here is the link to Sunjae's blog. He basically makes the point that art is not a luxury for those lucky few who "can afford" (what a strange concept!) the time off to practice it, but is a necessity for all of us, for physical, emotional, social, and cosmic reasons. And I couldn't agree more!
I used to live a much more arts-oriented life. I started teaching recorder and then violin when I was in middle school, and I put myself through college teaching violin and playing street music in Japan. I have always played fiddle, and some accordeon, in dance bands, from Scottish to English Country to Mexican norteño music. When I had my farm in Taos, the high point of my week (besides the Saturday farmer's market) was my weekly early European music group. All this has fallen by the wayside since I moved to Oregon a few years ago because I have been so busy teaching and writing and traveling and publishing.
I have always felt very strongly that agriculture is an art, and that the two share many common characteristics: From the selection of crops to the shaping of beds; the pairing of complementary fruits, vegetables, herbs, and flowers; the distribution and always changing function of spaces; the harmony and complex webs of interrelationships between plants and animals and humans; the social act of sharing the fruits of our labor whether by donation or in exchange for goods or money; the many years of hard, hard labor with the nose to the grindstone that we have to invest, to become good at anything and learn from mistakes; the unexpected results that appear when we change perspective (is a dandelion a week, a flower, or an addition to the soup pot?),... and the list goes on and on.
More specifically addressing the topic of this blog, in my mind there is no doubt that I absolutely need to farm to be a happy balanced person, to be truly "me." It just is, I cannot explain it. Yes, it's a great inconvenience and complication given how busy my academic life is and how hard it is in modern US to make a living with farming, but I have come to accept it because I have tried hard to get it out of my system and I just can't. I simply am not okay unless I get dirt under my fingernails and have some sort of baby animals around in the spring, make jam and pickles in the fall, muck out a goat pen and play in giant piles of compost now and then, and rest by a nice wood fire in the winter. I don't do enough farming these days, or for that matter enough art or music, and I can really feel the effect of this lack in my life. So I am grateful to Sunjae for his very timely reminder and promise to create the space for a more balanced life.
In addition to reiterating this need for creative expression in all of our busy lives, whether as farmers, doctors, writers, teachers, parents, or anything else, I also want to take this opportunity to contemplate what it means to see medicine as an art. I do not professionally practice medicine in the sense of treating patients, like most of the readers of this blog, so you all can answer this question better in your own mind. Maybe one of you will be inspired to write a guest blog now on this topic, now that I have put it out there. I do know, as a teacher and writer (and former farmer, baker, parent, etc.), that celebrating the creative and artistic dimensions of my various professions has changed my perspective, allowed me to think outside the box, and even imparted a social and cosmic dimension to my work that I might otherwise not be conscious of.
Lastly, thinking of my profession as an art also has the strange effect, in our society, that it makes me intensely grateful for the way I have been able to piece together my life, because we are so trained to thinking of art as a luxury and privilege. My daughter was asked on her first day back at high school this week to perform a "Privilege Walk" exercise, which turned out to be quite powerful. So we've been talking a bit about privilege this week. As an instructor of students at a college of classical Chinese medicine, and the daughter of a family with generations of doctors on both sides, it seems like an immense privilege to be able to engage in a life as a healer, just like it used to be a privilege to be able to produce the perfect goat cheese and share it with my grateful customers and it is now a privilege to produce beautiful books and share what I know about Chinese medicine with students near and far.
Here's some gratitude for the art in all of our lives!