John Brown: “The Human Need for Art”

John Brown, the director of Duke University’s Jazz Program and a professor of the practice of music in the Department of Music, calls on the university art community to lead during this incredibly challenging moment. His words below, shared on March 15, inspired a broad invitation to artists in and around the Duke community to remind us why art and artists are essential.

“I want Duke to be first in acknowledging the human need for art during these difficult times, and to show how we as a university are resilient. We can lead the charge in reminding everyone that our society needs art and that society is also resilient.

While this virus has seemed to be pretty effective in shutting things down all around us, the arts can ground us in a way that nothing else can, and I hope for Duke to be a trailblazing messenger to lead the charge in reminding everyone of the importance of art in a significant way. Art keeps us connected to our local, regional, national and global community.”

John Brown, Quiet Time

“A call to action to connect with art and to create art.”

I released the original music I have shared here over a period of several years, but this time of uncertainty and unrest has inspired me to share these recordings widely with the global community.

My recordings are results of unique circumstances or inspiration, but they all come from a deeply personal place, and reveal my motivation to create. With each project I had something specific to say. I share these recordings now because I want to people to know that we all experience highs and lows in life, and as human beings, we all respond to situations one way or another. No matter how differently our responses are, we all do respond. My hope is that people will feel welcome, and perhaps even encouraged, to feel and share through this call to create. Indeed, this is a call to action to connect with art and to create art. The expression of art is one key and definitive way we all get to share those things that move us—the feelings and emotions that come from the deepest and most protected and most revealing places inside of us.

As a musician, I hear and organize notes and rhythms in a way that feels just and honors my emotions. But as an artist, I expand my focus from simply hearing and feeling to embrace all senses. I align with fellow artists in every discipline, and I invite writers, painters, dancers, actors, and others to answer a larger calling: Let us hold each other up by sharing the art that comes from our various calls to create. We all employ the tools of notes, words, movements, sounds, expressions, images, and thoughts to get our messages across and express ourselves. You can do that too.

“Let us hold each other up by sharing the art that comes from our various calls to create.”

I want to let others know that it is okay to feel, it is okay to create, and it is okay to share your expression. Whether you are in a place of anger or peace, disbelief or steadfastness, contentment or confusion, or if you are simply undecided and uncertain, what you feel is valid, real, and legitimate, and what you create while you are in whatever place you’re in—you are right to honor that feeling with your expression.

The music I share with you comes from more peaceful and joyful places, and my offering is meant to move people to those places. Fellow humans, if this circumstance has moved you to feel or has put you in a place, feel it! Honor it! Embrace it! And allow yourself the space to create. Then tell us about it! Share it!  Someone needs to hear your passion, your rage, your love, and your frustration. We have all felt these emotions and we can all relate. So, wherever you are and whatever it is, express it!

And if you are not yet in a place where you are inspired to create, then share the space you’re in with artists. Whether it be John Coltrane’s “Naima,” a Brahms symphony (any one of them will do), the Gene Harris and Ernie Andrews version of “Love is Here to Stay,” Prince & The Revolution’s “Pop Life,” Rush’s 2112, Yolanda Adams’ “Just A Prayer Away,” Andrea Bocelli’s version of “Nessum dorma,” Shirley Horn’s Here’s To Life, Mint Condition’s “If the Feeling’s Right,” The Weeknd’s “Blinding Lights,” or Dua Lipa’s “Don’t Start Now” —this list really has no end so I will force myself to stop—reach out to these artists who have shared themselves with us and find comfort and inspiration in those gifts. And find peace. Or find anger, then peace for having found it.

“Use this time of stillness and calm to find your voice. . . We are in this together, and we will get through this together.”

It’s your time. It’s our time. We are in quarantine. Use this time of stillness and calm to find your voice. Whether that voice is your paintbrush, your computer, your feet, your hands or your eyes, let us know what is in your heart and on your mind. We are in this together, and we will get through this together. Start with art. It’s your time.

John Brown, Adonis Rose & Cyrus Chestnut, Dancing with Duke

“Artists need us just as much as we need them.”

These are unprecedented, unexpected, and unsettling times, to say the very least. We have all found new places where darkness hid, and we have all been trying to find—and finding—light. The human spirit is unbreakable and ever victorious. We have found light, even as we comply with social distancing, relinquish participation in normal activities, and live in isolation where solace can sometimes be hard to find. Where have we found light? I won’t attempt to make a blanket statement for all mankind, but I’d place a hefty bet on the fact that most of us have turned to art. Solace in art may be the very light that you seek.

When this dust settles and we resume that normal for which we so desperately mourn at this moment, do not forget who and what got you through. If you looked to those favorite paintings on your walls, motioned to listen to music, sat out on the deck to read, caught up on films and documentaries, turned a pottery wheel—remember where you sought calm, peace, and hope. Therefore, I want to say the following to our global beloved community:

Do not forget that artists shared their lives to show you life and quite possibly, to save your life. In this dark and turbulent time we should identify what is essential, and shelve what is not. We are now reminded unequivocally and in no uncertain terms that art is indeed, essential. It always has been, and it always will be. It is my plea that we will all remember art is essential when we come out of this. It is a bedrock of human expression and a foundation for human connection. We will embrace life in community again with a renewed strength and spirit that will allow us to thrive and prosper. We will undoubtedly be changed, but will we be different? Hopefully, we will experience art differently; simply put, a whole lot more than before. And hopefully we will resume life and forge ahead with a greater realization that we need to perpetually provide space and support to empower people to create.

We are now reminded unequivocally and in no uncertain terms that art is indeed, essential.

Remember our instinct is to create and express. Can you recall seeing a baby or a very young child who didn’t sing, dance, or draw? It’s natural. And as you grew (quality notwithstanding), did you not, and do you not sing? In the shower, in the car, out on the yard while you prune? I know you do. Of course you do.

Remember that art and artists were there for you when it was dark, when the order of the day—every single day as the days ran together—was to find light. And remember that art and artists will still be there for us on the other side when we reach that light. Artists need us just as much as we need them.

John Brown offers his music for you to listen to, and perhaps find light within, below. You can also browse or contribute to the Art and Artists are Essential collection.

The John Brown Quintet, Terms of Art