Thursday, November 19, 2015

Living an Artful Life

by Jennifer Denning

On a cold and rainy Sunday evening the Soulprint Players gathered at Holy Comforter Church to explore with our audience “The Art of Being Human.” One of the questions we asked the audience was, “What does it mean to live an artful life?”

Soulprint Players perform side-by-side solo dances
-photo credit Tony Martin

This is a question I continue to ruminate on over a week after our performance. The question feels particularly important after the attacks on Paris last Friday. What does this being human mean? How does one live fully in this world that includes such heart ache and horror?

A few years ago after the Sandy Hook shootings I heard this quote from Stanley Kunitz’s poem, “The Testing Tree”: “In a murderous time the heart breaks and breaks and lives by breaking. It is necessary to go through dark and deeper dark and not to turn.” After the Paris attacks, my mind returns to the truth of those words. The heart lives by breaking. The alternative is not to feel. The alternative is to succumb to anger, fear and thoughts of retribution. Perhaps an artful life cannot be lived without this willingness to break. Can there be art without an alive and open heart?

Masankho Banda tells a story with a "gesture choir"
-Photo credit Tony Martin
The Soulprint Players were honored to have long-time InterPlay leader, Masankho Banda from Malawi join our performance.  In Masankho’s young adulthood he came to California as a refugee from Malawi. Masankho’s father was imprisoned there for 12 years after speaking up to the dictator about the rights of the people. Masankho came to the U.S. when he learned he was also at risk of being imprisoned. During our performance one of the stories Masankho told was of being a young boy on a trip and desperately needing to use the bathroom when he was confronted with the sign “Whites only.” Masankho told his story with voice and dance. We watched him and felt the injustice with him.

Telling stories is one part of living an artful life. Speaking truth is another. Moving the realities of our worlds and the broader world out into the light through dance and song is a powerful experience. And yet making an artful life is not limited to those who find their fullness through “the arts.” Living an artful life might simply mean a willingness to find and create beauty in the midst of the whole range of human experience, “to go through dark and deeper dark and not to turn.” To let ourselves be penetrated and opened and to live our lives from the depth of that openness.

Soulprint Players celebrate post-performance
-Photo credit Lachlan Brown

In InterPlay performance a connection happens between the ensemble members and the audience. There is an openness present that asserts we can make art from anything that happens in our lives. Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines art as “something that is created with imagination and skill and that is beautiful or that expresses important ideas or feelings.”  We are all called to live artful lives- rich in imagination, skill, beauty and importance.


  1. Jennifer your reflections make me think abouta favorite line from a Leonard Cohen song: "Ring the bells that still can ring
    Forget your perfect offering
    There is a crack in everything
    That's how the light gets in."

    I'm so thankful for art and InterPlay and a way of connecting with others through out these times and happier ones.

    1. Oh yes! I thought of this quote also! Thanks for sharing. I find these words helpful medicine right now.