There’s no doubt about it: Self Improvement is big business. No matter where we look we seem to see men attired in business suits and fancy haircuts. Sporting dinky little ear-piece microphones, they speak to us as though we were attending the annual general meeting of their multi-national self-development business which, I suppose, isn’t that far from the truth. They speak to us in sound-bites; “I’m gonna show you how…”, “you just need to follow my plan: no thought required; just follow the plan”. Success and winning, they preach to the audience, are a sure thing.
But is self development a sure thing? If, like me, you believe self development is a life journey that is never completed, you know that the only sure thing is that the search for self development is far from being a sure thing. The journey will entail more failures than successes, more loss than gain and more self-doubt than we think we can endure. The only way to improve one’s self is to challenge the habits and assumptions we have gathered along the way. To go out on a limb with no guarantee of finding what we want takes courage. No ‘success plan’ would contemplate such a course of action!
So, if we can’t get succor from the self improvement gurus, who can we turn to?
The answer, I believe, is to look to the people who have always explored every single aspect of the human condition. They did not always find the answer, but they all had courage. They are of course, the world’s artists.
How can a painting help us toward our goal of self improvement you might ask? Well, some paintings help to bring serenity and a feeling of inner peace; I feel this whenever I look at an Impressionist painting, especially paintings by Berthe Morisot. She was never recognized as a great artist during her lifetime; she was relegated to the category of “feminine” artists because of her usual subject matter – women, children, and domestic scenes. Her paintings are intensely intimate. She is an example of someone who never gave up on pursuing what she thought was worthwhile despite being largely ignored.
Jackson Pollock instills different but equally powerful feelings. I used to believe all modern artists just throw a bit of paint on a canvas and call it art. My preconceptions were swept away when I was lucky enough to attend an exhibition devoted to his work. His paintings were beautiful and challenged the way I look at a painting. The search for your inner self is all about challenging your currently held notions.
Music is probably the easiest of the arts for us to accept as an aid toward our search for self development. How often does a certain piece of music make us feel happy, relaxed, romantic, hopeful, fulfilled? You name it, music hits all the buttons. My favourite music is anything by Beethoven. His music makes me feel all of the aforementioned. He was a man who accepted nothing less than perfection. He sort redemption through his music. Ultimately, he didn’t find it and he spent much of his life feeling alone. But his courage of conviction made his life, and countless others, a better thing. His last words were “Applaud, my friends, the comedy is over.”
Perhaps our greatest inspiration comes from writers. They have helped me, and millions of others, to find the inner self. Life would be a much poorer experience without our great writers. I won’t name all the writers that have inspired me; there are too many. But if there was one thing I would urge you to do, it is to read. If you’re not sure who to read then go to a library and ask!
Tell the librarian what it is that you want to experience, feel or learn when you read a book. They’ll help you; don’t let shyness defeat you. If you can’t get to a library then join a reading club on the internet. The one thing I have found is that people, who love to read, love to help others to read books.
So, forget about buying into those testosterone, succeed-at-all-costs seminars, books and DVDs. Go and look at a painting; or lie on the sofa and listen to music, maybe dance wildly to it, cry with it, make love in time to it; or curl up and read a book that will take you where you never thought possible.
You may not get to where you wished, but Art will accompany you every single step of the way.