The Arts in Moments of Crisis: Tools of Inspiration and Support

Yesterday, for me, was a day of self-reflection. After getting the WarnMe alert from the chancellor about a threat on campus, I found myself — like many others I presume — in a state of quick panic as I fought the urge to bolt out the door in the middle of my French presentation, then wondered whether or not it would be safe to stay on campus for the rest of my classes. After spending the day on edge, all I could do to cool myself down was plug myself into my iPod and listen to some music, which almost instantaneously channeled me back into a more relaxed state of mind. This swift, powerful shift in emotions generated my reflection on how and why music has such a therapeutic effect on me, even in such a concentrated state of anxiety.

While thinking about this experience, my attention was promptly turned to Woody Allen’s 1986 film, “Hannah and Her Sisters.” Through the course of this film, Woody Allen’s character goes through a high-strung couple of days while he grapples with the idea that he may have a brain tumor (which, of course, is mostly a hyperbolized condition that exacerbates in Allen’s character’s paranoid mind, not his actual physiology). In the midst of his existential crisis, Allen finds himself questioning the purpose of life and walking mindlessly into a movie theater for a dark, private place to think. Here, he finds his reason to continue living in a world where he could potentially die at any moment. The mass of performers singing and twirling across the screen in a showing of the Marx Brothers’ film, “Duck Soup,” convinces him that even if we have a limited amount of time on this earth, it only makes sense to “enjoy it while it lasts.”

Yesterday, I was reminded of how precious the arts are to my life. When the going gets rough, listening to music, dancing, or watching a film are ways that I remind myself of the beautiful creativity that surrounds and fuels me every day. This unexpected stimulus of reflection was a formidable reminder of how the arts are more powerful, more supportive, and more vital to my sanity, health and joy than I usually take the time to realize.