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Life-changing art

July 13, 2017 — Glyn Faulkner

Undervalued and sometimes scorned, the Arts and the artists who create them, seem to be perpetually under fire from one direction or another. On the macro scale, arts and humanities are an easy target for politicians who want to cut funding to something in an attempt to appear fiscally responsible. On the micro scale, artists trying to earn a living from their field face a constant battle with people who think they should "do it for the exposure" instead of for, you know, actual pay.

But art, in all of its forms, is important. It can change lives. Thanks to the chaotic nature of life and the butterfly-effect of seemingly trivial decisions, a work of art can change the course of a life in profound and far-reaching ways.

Here are three artistic works that have literally changed my life.

The City of Thieves, by Ian Livingstone

For my tenth birthday, a school friend got me book five of the Fighting Fantasy series. These part-book-part-games were popular in the eighties. You read them in a non-linear manner. Each numbered section requires you to make a decision that directs you to a different section and affects the course of a story that is written in the second person ("you do x") instead of the more usual first and third person.

I enjoyed playing The City of Thieves, and played others when I found them in shops or the local library. At high school I met my best friend through a shared interest in game-books, and he introduced me to the wider world of table-top roleplaying games, a hobby which has become my most enduring. I have run games, played in them, and even written them. Many of my friends are people I met through gaming, and at several points my social life has centred around the RPG community.

All because of one book.

Down to You, by Passion Play

In late 1997 I had just graduated and was living in a shared house in Oxford (with friends I had met through the University roleplaying society). My job was a bland cocktail of tedium and misery, spiced with constant stress-inducing interruptions and a dash of mild homophobic bullying. I endured it under the mistaken belief that I couldn't possibly give up the "security" of my meagre salary. At home I was hardly sparkling company for my housemates, some of whom were dealing with issues of their own.

One night someone suggested we all go to a local pub to see a friend-of-a-friend's band; a goth trio called Passion Play. I liked them and bought their demo-tape (it was the 90s; cassette tape was how unsigned bands distributed their music).

A couple of months later, a particularly bad week at work left me so stressed that by 5pm on Friday I was experiencing palpitations. Sunday evening sitting alone in my room feeling wretched, I sought solace in music. The fear of the fall is better than waiting. Those lyrics switched on a light in my head: whatever the risks of giving up the job, it couldn't be worse than postponing the decision.

Next morning I phoned work and told them I was never going back.

I haven't had another job that bad, but on half a dozen occasions since, Down to You has served as a reminder that fear of the unknown is a poor reason for not doing something.

Star Wreck

Some time in early 2007 I stumbled across this feature-length Star Trek/Babylon 5 parody by a group of Finnish students. It sounded interesting and was freely downloadable, so I grabbed a copy, watched it and enjoyed it.

Skip ahead to spring 2008. I decided to learn a new language, just for fun. I arbitrarily picked Dutch, but changed my mind to Finnish after re-watching Star Wreck.

Now it's 2017. I still don't speak Finnish very well, but I do live in Helsinki with my Finnish girlfriend, who I would probably never have met if I hadn't started studying her native language as a result of watching one cheaply produced sci-fi comedy.

Tags: art

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