“Art is the proper task of life“ — Friedrich Nietzsche
Nietzsche’s 19th century writings on philosophy and the meaning of existence encouraged people to live artistically, attaining satisfaction with the self through adhering to aesthetic values and creating works of art and poetry that capture and convey some form of beauty. Did he mean that we need paint or clay or music to make our lives meaningful? What does this admonition mean for those whose talents lie elsewhere?
Since art carries many definitions there are certainly other ways to make art the ‘proper task of life’ and to make your life a work of art. Art encompasses intangible elements, concepts and ideas as well as tangible outputs.
Perhaps artistic endeavour or ‘making art’ can be thought of as the personal experience of making meaning in your life or, simply, living well.
Making Life a Work of Art
Living well is unique to each of us. Each of us must determine the meaning of living well — or making life a work of art. Living well is influenced by multiple factors including environment, life circumstances, age, and health.
During the early days of autumn, I’ve been pre-occupied with ideas for living well and making my life a work of art. What does living well mean at this time in my retirement journey? What does living well mean for those of us who are not well-read in philosophy? What does living well mean in this time of global uncertainty? Does living well create happiness? Does living well allow a joyful experience of beauty? Does living well provide the foundation for creativity? How will I know that my life is a work of art?
While Nietzsche’s advice to create and enjoy art is an aspect of living well, I’ll translate his advice to include learning to love myself for who I am, striving to have my ‘best’ self show up consistently, practising generosity and kindness, living each day with intentionality, and staying hopeful and positive about the future.
Learning to Love Myself
What does it mean to love myself — warts and all? Unconditional self-love, or love without conditions limitations, or reservations, begins with the same kindness and respect that I show to the people I love most.
I can cut myself some slack, forgive my stupid mistakes, and stop creating unrealistic expectations for how I will use my time. No more self-denial! I’m working on treating myself, working on saying yes to opportunities, working to make choices that increase happiness.
It’s easy to focus on thoughts about negative traits and mistakes rather than remembering accomplishments. Learning to appreciate and love oneself sets the groundwork for appreciation of others. Loving myself also involves letting go of the past otherwise it will continue to screw up the present.
Meditation, gratitude practise, yoga, self-forgiveness, relaxation, and writing are strategies that I use to improve my capacity for self-appreciation.
Allowing my ‘best’ self to show up
None of us are perfect, but we can continually strive to improve who we are, how we think, and how we present ourselves. Lifestyle and habit changes augment capacity for physical and mental performance.
Some people find using a ‘best self’ journal enables daily planning for consistent progress toward goals. Writing a description of your best self with the inner voice as a guide assists identification of what is important. Effort, focus, knowledge, skill, experience and energy are components of my best self.
Structure and planning provide opportunities to have my ‘best’ self show up consistently. I try to plan weekly and monthly tasks to stay focused on important achievements and commitments. The pursuit of goals consistent with interests brings happiness and satisfaction as these goals and dreams are fulfilled.
Living with Intentionality
Clarity of intention and purpose helps me to stay on track with what is important to make meaning in life.
Successful organizations have mission statements to clarify their aims. Personal mission statements can have the same effect on the individual level. Actions taken every day can be framed with positive intentions based on a bigger purpose for your life.
Several years ago, I was privileged to work with a yoga teacher who encouraged each participant to set an intention for practice before each yoga class. I’ve incorporated the technique of setting an intention when overwhelmed with mundane tasks or when over-committed.
Practising Generosity and Kindness
A component of living well involves generosity and kindness. Even small actions of helping others or acknowledging them improve my sense of well-being and greater happiness.
Many people consider such actions as ‘paying it forward’ but true generosity does not expect a return. Random acts of kindness may not require huge effort but can make a big difference for someone. By giving of ourselves, sharing, and appreciating the gestures of others, we spread goodness in the world.
Staying Hopeful and Positive
A positive outlook on life is something that can be learned. In the past, I was often accused of ‘black’ hat thinking. I looked for difficulties, played devil’s advocate, and imagined what wouldn’t work. With the awareness that this judgemental habit wasn’t advancing my life goals, I’ve worked on developing a more optimistic outlook.
Thinking habits can be modified to look for possibilities and new ideas. When actions and words are consistent with what I believe to be important I’m learning to stay hopeful and positive. Improved self-esteem is a happy byproduct of this change.
It’s doubtful that I have the creative skill or imagination for painting, music, poetry, sculpture or writing but I can strive to make my life a work of art by living authentically and truthfully. Even if nobody reads my writing, I can continue to nurture my creativity and make my art with blog posts that share my random thoughts about life and happiness.
Thanks for reading my post. I’m interested in hearing about techniques that you use to incorporate art into your life.