I read two books this week, seemingly unrelated, that both touched on something I’ve wondered about. I’ve always considered myself a logical person. If I were a character in Star Trek, I would be Spock. But there has always been this dichotomy in me as well. I am creative. I have always loved music and art and literature and poetry. I see colors when I hear certain music, my moods change significantly depending on what I hear and see, and I am sometimes brought to tears by the image of a field full of flowers. In this way, I am nothing like Spock.
I have never been able to explain this strange split in myself. I have always considered it a struggle between my logical and my emotional selves. I felt that one must always outweigh the other, and for my part I always respected logic above all else.
Then I read Musicophilia by Oliver Sacks. If you are at all interested in or fascinated by the brain, I highly recommend his books. Musicophilia was a series of case studies on people with different injuries, disabilities, or heightened abilities that affected their ability to hear, understand, or sense music. It was fascinating how many different senses come together to bring music to life – not just rhythm and melody, but timbre and tone and harmony and feeling. Some people feel it. Some don’t. But the thing that most resonated with me is that music comes from a separate part of the brain from literacy, speech, and logic. Being intelligent in one area has no effect on your enjoyment or abilities in music. I can be logical and still feel music at the depths of my soul. There is nothing strange about this.
Then I started reading Walking on Water by Madeleine L’Engel. A friend gave me this book several months ago, but I did not even crack it open until last night. The timing was perfect. I have been thinking quite a lot about my faith and my art lately, and Madeleine L’Engel has eloquently given voice to my own thoughts on the subject. What I most enjoyed, I think, is her emphasis on the seeming illogic of art. If I think about it, if I try to turn it into something with a particular purpose, then I am trying to control God. If I allow Him to work through me, even if I don’t understand it, then there is Truth. And it is not always a logical truth, not something that can be put into words but that is felt and sensed through a completely different part of ourselves. What makes me love the art of Van Gogh? Or be completely moved by the work of Shostakovich and Dvorak and Rachmaninoff? It is not the logical part of myself. It must be something else.
What I have always felt is that I cannot be both logical and emotional. It ought to be one or the other. But what I am realizing now is not just that the two sides can be balanced, but that they can coexist. Reacting emotionally to fine art does not mean that my logic has been defeated. Nor does my ability to fix grammar mean that I’ve utterly destroyed my creative self. They live together, different parts of the same brain, different strengths that are not in any sort of competition with each other. Sure, I must put aside my logical self to let the power of creativity flow through me–it’s like turning a valve to access a different self. But that act does not change or weaken that logical self. In fact, there is evidence to show that using that creativity, especially in music and writing, strengthens several areas of your brain all at once. How’s that for coexisting?
What kind of art really moves you? Do you have a favorite composer, or artist, or writer who seems to create some resonance with you? I’d love to find some new art to explore, so please share in the comments!