Marcel Proust once wrote, “The only true voyage of discovery, the only fountain of Eternal Youth, would be not to visit strange lands but to possess other eyes, to behold the universe through the eyes of another, of a hundred others, to behold the hundred universes that each of them beholds, that each of them is…”
He is writing about the role artists play in society in a chapter perhaps appropriately named, The Prisoner.
We are all prisoners of our own limited vision. In the bustle of everyday life, we make snap judgements, look superficially, and fail to see the fullness of another’s lived experience.
Good art, in any form, asks us to stop and reconsider. To see with new eyes the multitude of universes we each contain. This multitude includes nuance, conflict and contradictions.
Recently, I read the book Invisible Child by Andrea Elliott. And while I have experienced poverty first hand and studied it much of my life, it was nonetheless revelatory. Love and neglect exist within not just a family but within every system that attempts to help it. The opportunities that leaving brings is in a constant tug of war with the desire to stay. As you walk through the lives of this family you are constantly “beholding new universes” that whipsaw you from hope to frustration from respect to disappointment to joy.
While art is a catalyst for these voyages, it is not the only vessel. Our own humility and curiosity can carry us far. Perhaps aided with a simple prompt or push.
At one point, Elliot reminds us that the adults who sometimes fail us are in fact, “former children” who themselves have been failed by other adults and systems. This simple frame does not deny them their responsibility or agency but helps put their present actions in the context of their past.
Looking at someone as a “former child” or wondering ‘how someone ended up where they are today” serve as lenses that can help us see, understand and even help those who previously we would have disparaged or dismissed.
That sounds like a voyage worth going on.