Art in Times of Chaos

“Art is not decoration. Art is exploration. Artists train people to see.”

Jordan Peterson, 
Beyond Order



What an eventful week it has been. Started my final semester as an undergrad. Dropped an earbud in a cup of coffee. And I’m also under quarantine after my sister tested positive for Covid. My nostrils had no fun losing their virginity in a swab test either.

But at least, most of my classes were coincidentally cancelled for the week, so I’ve finally had the opportunity to be healthily idle. I haven’t really been doing anything, unless binge-watching an entire season of Seinfeld counts as something. 

At least I’m blessed with the space to sit with my own thoughts.

Lazing around in my room, I suddenly remembered one of Jordan Peterson’s rules for life in his book Beyond Order, “Try to make one room in your home as beautiful as possible.”

The rule teaches you to decorate your room with art, so that you would have something beautiful to look at and think of. This way, it helps you feel connected to life’s greater picture, and to appreciate beauty and purpose whenever you experience chaos in your life.

He writes, “Buy a piece of art. Find one that speaks to you and make the purchase. If it is a genuine artistic production, it will invade your life and change it. A real piece of art is a window into the transcendent, and you need that in your life…Unless you can make a connection to the transcendent, you will not have the strength to prevail when the challenges of life become daunting.”

I turned to my shelf, took out my big book of Bob Dylan lyrics. By chance, I landed on Mr. Tambourine Man, and I turned on the music accordingly. The song is one of Dylan’s most surreal pieces, as he so deftly borrows inspiration from some of his favorite poets, namely T.S. Eliot, William Butler Yeats, and Arthur Rimbaud. I felt as though every line in the song is a window into his restless, even breathtaking imagination.

Dylan supposedly wrote the song during a precarious time in his life. John F. Kennedy was assassinated, huge Civil Rights protests were going on, and Dylan was just about done being “The Voice of a Generation”. Amid all of these stresses, he turned to his favorite poets, and even went on a road trip across the country, as Jack Kerouac romanticized in his novel On The Road. During the trip, he was spellbound by the city of New Orleans, which is commonly known as the birthplace of jazz.

Mr. Tambourine Man captures the morning after the road trip, or the loneliness and bereavement that one feels after all the fun and carouse have ended. And to that, Dylan calls on Mr. Tambourine man to play him a song. He verbalizes about the wonder of music — a loyal companion that helps to alleviate his malaise. He sings out the joy of listening, which a lot of us have felt — the feeling of being transcended, of being taken into an enchanting, cinematic landscape by a song. 

He sings,

“Yes, to dance beneath the diamond sky
With one hand waving free
Silhouetted by the sea
Circled by the circus sands
With all memory and fate
Driven deep beneath the waves
Let me forget about today until tomorrow” 

I might not know who Mr. Tambourine Man is to Dylan, but for me, he is Dylan himself. Whenever the stresses of life catch up with me, there is always Dylan’s articulate music for me to be in awe of. I might be stuck at home, but my mind has wandered across hundreds of enchanting places. The songs help me forget about today until tomorrow. 

So, what kinds of art are dear to you, and how have they helped you through chaotic times? 

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