The Art of Communication

We eat to survive, we speak to live. Week 2.

We as humans have very basic needs for survival. We need food, we need water, and we need shelter. But there is one more need I think needs adding to that list. Something just as important for our survival, and that is communication. One of the main ways we fulfill that specific need is through art. Here’s a peek into how I’ve reach this realisation.

James Baldwin and Alan Watts

I read sometimes. Not as often as I could but I do enjoy a book. Two authors I’m really enjoying at the moment are James Baldwin and Alan Watts. They tackle seemingly different topics but somehow, in my mind speak the exact same language while doing so.

Alan Watts with Alan the cat, by Michael McManus

Watts

Alan Watts was a British-American Philosopher who played a role in bringing eastern philosophy to the western consciousness. To do that he gave many lecturers while also writing and selling many books.

From what I have heard and read of Alan Watts, my impression as a reader is that when you read an Alan Watts book it feels like he might be sitting next to me explaining how he sees that world and our existence in it. It’s very personal.

I don’t think that’s a coincidence, or just some inevitable emotional byproduct of me reading something I am interested in. I think it’s very intentional on the part of the author. The words he uses, how he structures his explanations and which information he puts in what order all speak to the person we see off the page.

I would extend the same feeling towards James Baldwin.

James Baldwin, New York City, 1976. Photograph by Nancy Crampton

Baldwin

James Baldwin was a Black American born author and public figure. Most prominent around the time of the civil rights movement in America. He grew up in New York in the 20’s and 30’s with his mother, siblings and a stepfather who was a preacher. At a very young age, Baldwin followed his stepfather into the church, becoming a young minister.

The world around him twisted and boiled with hatred and anger between black and white. Through his literature he reflects on questioning where his life might have ended up. Expressing how he often looked around at his fellow people being destroyed by the world around them and thought about how few options he had as a black man himself. Additionally, he was all to aware of how Little time he had to make a decision that could change the course of his life. Eventually he grew disillusioned with the church and even later still, he began to see writing as a real path for him. He knew physically and emotionally what people who looked like him were going through, never losing the desire to be the voice that spoke on their pain.

To me, all of that history and context is a language. An invisible undercurrent that drives the reader down the river of his mind. Baldwin wrote many essays and letters addressing the state of America at the time, speaking not just to the black community but the American community at large. Baldwin also wrote fiction. In that fiction I believe Baldwin’s stories carry a weight that would not exist as clearly without the wider context of who he was and what he believed as a person. The stories are a pristine window into how Baldwin saw the world around him. He was always speaking to his audience in a deeper sense than addressing the reader through words written on a page.

Communication

To me, great art is supposed to feel like a conversation. Great songs, pictures, books and paintings seem to resonate by saying what we already know, but didn’t know how to say.

Language, notes, cameras and paint are tools by themselves, much like words. But none of it can be called communication if we are not using context and intent to make a connection with the person we are talking to. The connection part of communication is important, because otherwise we are just talking at each other, not to each other.

Art at its best is a conversation in which the artist is talking directly to you. But in order to have a conversation and not an argument, a connection needs to be made. Therefore, great art is communication through connection.