“The object of art is to give life a shape,” Jean-Anouilh, “The Rehearsal.”
“The object of fandoms is to give our elephants a shape,” – Me.
Why might elephants be the secret to truth? Real elephants are lovely, of course, which is reason enough. But I also love thinking about our metaphorical elephants – particularly the one in the Indian folktale “The Elephant and the Blind Men.” In it, some blind men come upon an elephant and each feel a different part of it, coming to very different conclusions about what the animal is. Does its trunk mean it’s a snake? Do its thick legs imply it’s a tree? Their confusion is an apt analogy for how limited we are trying to figure out the new and unknown – and how much better it can be when we work together. Our elephants are the abstract truths we long to know – of ourselves, of others, of what it’s all about.
The elephant in the room of our lives, you might say, is that we never can quite figure out what the elephant is.
Of course, Lemony Snicket fans know this is all expertly explained in the Netflix version of “A Series of Unfortunate Events,” the “Penultimate Peril” episode.
Readers of The Little Prince will also see the elephant as a symbol for truth, used by the author to show how boring grown-ups might see a hat in this drawing, when imaginative children will know it for what it really is: a snake digesting an elephant.
So how, then, do we limited grown-ups try to make sense of the metaphorical elephants in our world, considering we can’t quite perceive them? How do we figure out our truths with only five measly senses and communication that is stilted at best?
In three letters: art (in all its forms.) In five: fandom (aka art we really love a lot.) We piece our ideas together bit by bit, conversation by conversation, using movies and shows and visual art and books to propel our ideas forward. Our own personal artistic tools, meanwhile, help us define it all.
Art/fandoms can help us define what is in ourselves.
Case in point, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, in which the main character sculpts his way into understanding his bizarre ideas and impulses:
Art can help us define others.
In Doctor Who, the mysterious character of Clara is depicted multiple times in paintings through years of the series. Figuring out who exactly she is and where she comes from and why is a puzzle that plagues the Doctor – with the paintings providing a ghostly trail of clues along the way. Our own portraits of people we know or figures who interest us can function in much the same way.
Art can help us define what it’s all about.
My favorite example of art’s ability to define is from The Truman Show. The main character, Truman, has spent his whole life being filmed on a set without his knowledge. Over the years, he pieces together bits of magazines to form of the face of a woman he once met, an actress who promised to tell him the truth before she’s whisked away by the filmmakers. This helps him define her but also helps him define the greater truth of what his life is about – glued together with bits that felt right, one by one.
In the end, I hope we can all find enough art and enough fandoms to make sense of our own elephants. Given all the beauty that makes sense to us, we too can be like Vincent Van Gogh in Doctor Who, seeing the stars:
“Well look around. Art. You know, it seems to me there’s so much more to the world than the average eye’s allowed to see. I believe, if you look hard, there are more wonders in this universe than you could ever have dreamed of.”
And elephants, too.