I finally had a chance to finish watching Ken Burns’ documentary, The Vietnam War. It was a commitment to watch all 10 episodes, and I’m so glad I did. I’m grateful for Ken Burns and how his documentaries have educated this nation and shown us the human face of war and history.
Toward the end of the documentary, we are introduced to Maya Lin, the 21-year-old artist whose design was chosen for the creation of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. They mention some of the controversy around her design, and how people said she was too young, too inexperienced, too ethnic, too female to represent the conflict accurately.
Then they cut back to the people they’d been interviewing throughout the documentary, men who fought, and men and women who protested the war. In nearly every case, they said a visit to “The Wall” brought them to tears. Even talking about it on film, they still cried. This piece of art, this “scar in the landscape,” healed a nation and deeply moves even those of us who visit it and have no direct association with the war. This artist, whom some found undeserving, stood by her art, and we are better for it.
So this Thanksgiving Day, I will speak my gratitude for all artists. Those who do it professionally, and those who do it for themselves or their families.
I’m grateful for the artists who arrive at their “day jobs” yawning because they were up all night working on their real job.
I’m grateful for the artists who persevere when people tell them they are too young or too old; too uneducated or too knowing; too undeserving or too privileged; too innocent or too jaded to produce their art.
I’m grateful for the young people who have committed to pursuing their art knowing it’s never going to be an easy path.
And for the artists who take risks or who write and produce art outside of their own experience, even when they are told they shouldn’t.
I’m grateful for the artists who work to the point of exhaustion to meet the demands of success and fame, and those who work to the point of exhaustion trying to achieve success and fame.
I’m grateful for the artists who aren’t “very good” but stick to their art anyway. They teach us it’s the making of art that really matters.
And I’m grateful for the artists who are so talented they set the bar impossibly high. Their work takes our breath away and inspires us to try harder.
I’m grateful for the artists who are really prophets. And for the prophets who inspire artists.
I’m grateful for the children who climb on statues and point at graffiti and take a leaf home and paste it into their coloring books. They don’t have to be told to admire art, they just do.
I’m grateful for the mothers and fathers who read to their children at bedtime and play songs for them on the piano and sit at the table and mold sculpting clay with their kids.
I’m especially grateful for those who follow their muse, even when it terrifies them to do so.
But most of all, I’m grateful that even in times of trouble, we can still sing together in church, recite poems at our community gatherings or our rallies, read books together in our book clubs, and gather around the virtual water cooler to talk about the hottest new movie.
I’m grateful for those of you who practice the art of medicine, education, innovation, science, agriculture, business, and more. Thank you for sharing your art with us.
In the immortal words of ABBA, “without a song and a dance, what are we?” Thank you, artists, for giving those to us!
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Also published on Medium.