I’m going to interrupt my weekly ramble in favor of writing about just one subject. I found out about Robin Williams’ death yesterday.
As with many artists, I am predisposed to melancholy. I don’t see how not to be, when part of my job is to take what’s in the world, run it through my personal filter, and put it back out there in a way that resonates with people and helps them see their world in a different light. There is a great deal of beauty here on Earth, but there’s also a lot of terrible anger and sadness. And it hurts me to think about these things, and it pains me that these things even exist so that I have to think about them, and the futility of doing good and the inconsequentiality my life and the insignificance of our existence in the larger scheme of things can be a terrible burden.
When we create art we are tapping into the rawness of reality. We see, we consume and absorb, we break it down to a sort of form that makes sense to us and then we wrap that form in song, dance, theater, poetry, prose, sculpture, paint on a canvas. We show you a different way; we tilt the world just a little bit and sometimes magic falls out. Sometimes you become intensely aware in a way that makes you feel that you’ve walked through life blindly up until this very moment. Sometimes you are simply entertained.
You, the recipient of our gift in its final form, should know this: what moves you moves us as well. The greater the impact of our work, the more it took for us to create that moment for you. Sometimes the action of creation energizes and exalts us, and sometimes it leaves us breathless and bereft. Sometimes, we are subsumed by what we create; we’ve gone to that dark, warm, primal place that each of us have inside and emerged triumphant, fists full of shining threads that we then wove together into a powerful and profoundly moving tapestry. For you. For us. Because we can’t stop. Because we are artists.
Robin Williams created great art. He went to that dark place where resides all pain, fear, and sadness, and there he learned how these things bind us as a people, and how this commonality extends to what protects and saves us, what gives us hope. In that dark place he learned how to use his art to show us the beauty in the weird and forgotten; he learned to help us see the common threads that bind us all. And that’s what made his work truly special; the humanity that infused everything he did. Haven’t we all yearned to have someone turn kind eyes and ready smile to us, to see to the root of us and love us anyway, to believe in our potential and nurture us to greatness? Someone who would laugh deep belly laughs with us, and see straight and true to the heart of things with a sparkle in their eye? That was Robin Williams’ great gift to us. He used his skill as an actor to help us believe in ourselves.
Robin Williams created great art, and it came at a great price. Artists have a reputation for being sensitive, and rightly so. We are aware because we have to be; if we wall ourselves off we lose our access to the muse. Sadness or joy, we must feel them in equal measure. For some it takes less of a toll, and I don’t know why that is. Perhaps it’s a matter of resiliency. I think that Robin Williams was amazingly resilient for many, many years, but then his defenses wore down. It happens to some people, sometimes sooner in life and sometimes later. I’ve read that he kept a heavy work schedule, and I imagine that in order to continue delivering his art at a high level, he had to keep himself wide open to the world. What a toll that must have taken on him, to stay open like that, ravaged by increasing despair, all in order to share his art with us, to make us laugh and help us hope.
The world is less today. Thank you, Robin Williams, for your gift to me. You will not be forgotten.