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A hundred and fifty years ago, a group of edgy outsider artists organized a renegade exhibition. These painters all had been soundly rejected by the Paris Salon. They weren’t even runners-up; no one took them seriously. Undeterred, they found a space, financed their own show (no small feat for struggling bohemians), and featured themselves for the public.

It bombed. Few came. Those who did were mostly very critical. It was a financial disaster. The artists persisted, however, year after year. Eventually, these rebels, these outsiders — including Claude Monet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Edgar Degas, Camille Pissarro, and others now known as the Impressionists — reshaped culture and became the new standard-bearers of 19th-century painterly expression.

Seth Godin writes: “They picked themselves and they did it together. Everyone wants to be picked, but no one wants to organize the collective ‘we.’ It’s the ‘we’ that creates a school of thought, a movement, a culture.”

Maybe I talk about TOGETHERNESS too often, I don’t know, but I can’t help it. Because I kind of think it is the key to pretty much everything that we might want to heal, transform, or create. I mean, of course, we’ve got our individual lives to deal with, and we do all sorts of interesting independent things in them. But it’s together that we create the world into which these lives are going to bloom. It’s together that we make love and war, create culture and country, form paradigm and declare possibility.

I’ve been thinking about how it must’ve felt for the Impressionists going from being art rebels to finding themselves “the Establishment” less than a decade later. Popularity and commercial acceptance has terrific advantages, indeed, in terms of being able to buy food and pay the rent, so it probably seemed pretty good in some ways. But I imagine that for some of them, at least, the turnaround and rise might have been a little uncomfortable. I wonder if they feel like sell-outs once they’d made it.

Because there can be a sense of freedom in thinking of ourselves as “outsiders” — utterly unbeholden to others’ expectations, not responsible for anyone’s experience but our own. All we have to do is express ourselves, speak our minds, make our art, do our thing, and the rest of the world can like it or lump it. Not only do I get the appeal of this, in a lot of ways I agree with it.

I am also interested, however, in how we might celebrate this potent individualism and our essential all-inclusive togetherness at the same time. It doesn’t have to be our singular creativity versus the status quo, the powers-that-be, the world. Does it? I mean, I think actually we might bear responsibility not just for our own belonging but also for each other’s. And if so, then, who’s really an “outsider?”

Being authentic and true, bringing to the world our completely unique new perspective, doesn’t have to mean rejection and isolation. I’m not saying that people don’t get shunned or rejected, of course they do. But who’s really doing the rejecting? Who defines belonging? Who picks?

We might not find a big audience or a lot of immediate agreement when we introduce new ideas, vision, our imagination. But I don’t believe that necessarily has to leave us out in the cold. Ultimately, no matter what the rest of the world thinks, we have to pick ourselves. And I’m wondering how it might transform everything if we practiced remembering that in this way at least, we’re all “insiders.” We’re the ones choosing or not choosing who we get to be.

So much of identity gets forged out of comparison and distinction — I’m not like that, not like them.  And then it’s solidified in cliques and exclusivity — we’re different, we’re special, we’ve been disenfranchised but at least we’ve got each other.  But if belonging is conditional, dependent on ideas of who isn’t a part of things as much as who is — us versus them — then I think it’s always going to fall short and fail to fulfill no matter where we stand in it.  

We’ve got to — simply got to — figure out how to create space for ourselves AND for each other. I don’t believe those ideas need to be in conflict. Making room for my being doesn’t have to mean pushing someone else out. Letting someone else fully exist and express doesn’t compromise my integrity. Whether that means sharing a seat with a stranger on a crowded bus, or sharing Holy Lands, or sharing the vast resources of the world. Here I am AND here we are. Together. And we are better together.

I can’t wait to be with you this Sunday at 10am at our NEW LOCATION — q-Staff Theatre at 400 Broadway Blvd SE. That’s on the southeast corner of Broadway and Lead in East Downtown. There’s plenty of parking up and down Broadway, with several spaces reserved right in front of the theater. If you don’t mind a little stroll and want to leave those rockstar spots for folks who really need them, you can also find lots of free street parking just east on Arno.

Special guest, healer and shaman Michael Guzzio, will be with us to bless us into the space. XO, Drew

©2024 Drew Groves

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