Wednesday, February 21, 2007

The Power of The Quest

A bunch of cavemen peer inside a dark cave... inside is something they could all use—perhaps an animal to kill for food or bear skins for warmth—but only one of the cavemen can go inside, either due to his natural skills (he has the most strength or the best eyesight) or his inclination. He goes inside and, after a time, emerges with a new resource that helps everyone. His individual success is everyone's success.

This is the nature of the quest: a knight is sent away to slay a dragon in order to rescue a princess, break a spell, or free a kingdom, or all three. Either way, a knight's quest is basically an individual's errand which also benefits the group and though thousands of years have passed since we learned to walk upright, the quest has evolved and infused itself into countless professions. We still prefer to let those with specialized talents do the things we can't or won't do for ourselves: lawyers, doctors, realtors, plumbers, politicians, diplomats, soldiers, scientists, teachers, webmasters... the list is endless. Go into that cave for us so you can get "X" for me/us. Each person has a different cave to go into, one that best suits their personality and skill, and the deeper in the cave they go, they'll likely find something nobody else has.

Artists also go on quests, although their terra incognita is metaphysical, and as such manufactures a tangible resource from nothing but ideas. Nevertheless, each type of artist—painters, sculptors, poets, writers, musicians—they all delve into areas we have neither time, desire nor ability to explore. Taking a deep breath, they hold their torch up and enter the cave to find something that will either make us all laugh, or sad, or angry, or horrified. If we've seen something like it before, we're not too impressed, but if it's completely new, we fight for a chance to see it, hold it, experience it. This found object is the purest distillation of art and it can be like crack cocaine when made right. It can be a painting filling you with limitless joy, a song or symphony striking a chord so perfect to bring you to tears, a poem unearthing a buried and terrifying truth... or a film yanking us into its story headfirst and doesn't let go until its final "The End".

Go inside the cave for us, they say.

Why? It's dark in there. It might be a while before I find anything good to bring back.

That's okay. We need a story. A good story. Something to make us laugh or cry.

What for? It's only a story.

Stories help us relate to the world: they help us imagine how we could fight our own dragons. And we can't do that for ourselves. Not like you can.

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