Over 500 years ago, the Polynesian inhabitants of Easter Island carved the Moai- monolithic stone statues. Scientists are not sure why these massive, 14-ton statues were carved. Are they grave markers? Status symbols? Religious symbols? One thing about the Moai is recognized: they mark the existence of a certain people at a certain time in history. The Moai are monoliths, but they tell the story of a people in fragments that, however indecipherable, are as solid and real as the stone from which they were carved.
People are monoliths as well. We are living monuments to the lives we lead, aspire to lead, or pretend to lead. People are much more fragile than the Moai, and unless we are lucky, our remains will not survive to puzzle a civilization hundreds of years in the future. We live in an age, however, where we can fully tell our stories in ways that are much easier to comprehend.
We have the gift of storytelling. More to the point, we have the ability to permanently record our stories. At our end, we are survived by these stories, these fragments of ourselves.
Contrary to popular belief, the Moai are not just heads sitting on the ground. They are full figures that have merely been buried up to their necks. Like the Moai, we are imprisoned by time and circumstance, yet we must still offer our stories. We want the world to know that we were here, and were paying attention.
Unlike the Moai, we have the capacity for hubris. Also, we understand that time – our unbeatable foe – will serve us his retribution. In Ozymandias, Shelly’s traveler recites the words on the pillar of a great fallen statue: “Look on my works ye mighty, and despair!” Hovever, time, the mightiest of the mighty, has no fear of us, and promises daily to return us to the dust from which we came. We living patchwork monoliths are driven to create, to tell our stories to each other, if only to be Ramesses for a short while.
But a desire for greatness is not the primary reason to create. Artists feel an urge to arouse, to communicate on a deeper level. We are addicted to the response. Most of us are driven by a need to take our abilities to newer heights, to solicit a greater response. We push the envelope of creativity and would push it to fatal limits if we ever realized where those limits exist. We’d compose songs and sculptures that live and breathe. We’d destroy the universe just to photograph the explosion.
But art is not dangerous, just dependent. Art needs us to create it, just as addicts we need it to communicate. It’s a perfect relationship, and as modern storytellers, we are the creator and the work. We sculpt ourselves. We tell the story of or lives and our times, one fragment at a time.
It’s not known how many people, or how many years it took to create each Moai, but at our level of technology, one sculptor can create a similar monolith in mere days. In another 500 years, if our race exists, there may be no need for artists. By then, our advanced technology may truly be indistinguishable from magic. What will happen to art then? What will happen to any surviving stories from our age? Again, time is our enemy; it will erode our stories just as it erodes the Moai. It will make our processes obsolete, just as it made the processes of our predecessors obsolete. It may very well make us obsolete.
But preoccupation with time is itself a waste of time, just as inattentiveness is self-indulgent. We create. We always have, and if we exist in the future, we will create for those times as well. Human expression will continue as long as there are humans who are willing to express, and humans who are willing to be an audience. So create. Write, sculpt, paint, recite, but above all, listen. It’s the first step to proving you exist.