Art helps us to find and show our soul

In recent years, we’ve received the occasional letter to the editor from students in other parts of the country requesting our residents send them information from the area, whether it be photos, postcards, newspapers, etc. The idea is to collect materials showcasing various parts of the nation to assist the youth in learning more about it.

A couple of weeks ago, I noticed social media posts discussing similar assignments where high school students were tasked with writing to their favorite celebrities, asking them for advice in life or even inviting them to visit their school.

According to one post, in 2006 five students from a school in New York City received such an assignment and opted to write to author Kurt Vonnegut. Of those written to by that particular class, Vonnegut reportedly was the only person to respond.

While the author informed the students he no longer did public appearances, he did offer advice. As part of his letter, Vonnegut wrote “Practice any art, music, singing, dancing, acting drawing, painting, sculpting, poetry, fiction, essays, reportage, no matter how well or badly, not to get money and fame, but to experience becoming, to find out what’s inside you, to make your soul grow.”

He told them whatever medium or media they chose, they should continue for the rest of their lives, for better or worse, even if no one else saw it. In fact, he told them each to write a six line poem as a bit of homework, not to show it or recite it to anyone, then to tear it up into tiny pieces and throw them away.

“You have experienced becoming, learned a lot more about what’s inside you, and you have made your soul grow,” he wrote.

Mr. Vonnegut made a lot of sense with this advice. To be fair, he made a lot of sense with a lot of things over the years, but these thoughts have stuck with me in recent days.

Growing up, and I’m sure it’s the same for many, we were required to take an art class during a certain part of our schooling. We were shown mostly drawing techniques, and ideas on perspective and other things. I never considered myself very good, and seldom received anything higher than a “B” in the class. There wasn’t much encouragement in the class, so I remember few of us actually enjoying it.

Looking back, though, it’s probably because there really wasn’t much of an opportunity to express ourselves through the art. It was “draw this line, draw that line, get this picture.” But art isn’t mechanical and it doesn’t take just one form. Most importantly, it has to include something from the artist.

I try to take a few pictures in the rare moments of free time I have. I used to write a little bit of poetry. Like a lot of people, I’ve even toyed with the thought of writing a novel of some sort. I seldom show my photos to anyone, and I don’t know that anyone has read any poems or essays I may have written over the years. But, in many ways, whatever I’ve done has been cathartic. That’s kind of the point, isn’t it?

We have an art gallery in Weirton. There are a lot of people who still don’t know it’s there even though it’s been open for several years now. It’s not large. There’s only room to display works from a handful of artists, but it’s always interesting to see what’s there.

You may see pictures and paintings, or sculptures or pottery work of varying styles. Whatever it is, it reflects a vision and a thought. It shows us a part of the artist. Hopefully, it also gives us inspiration to show a bit of ourselves.

(Howell, a resident of Colliers, is managing editor of The Weirton Daily Times, and can be contacted at or followed on Twitter @CHowellWDT)