Art Helps You Understand the Past, Present & Future

When I wrote my first book of nano fiction – Rage/Love: A Collection of Microtales – little did I know that it would be a literary journey that proved to be therapeutic. As a member of Gen X, I come from a patriarchal era that subjugated women; bullied minorities; conveniently used religion to use and abuse; exploited mental illness as an insult to put people down; and swept family trauma under the carpet by pretending it never existed.

My collection deals with a myriad of themes that encapsulates horror, mystery, rage, love, hate, bullying, magic, infidelity and family trauma. Dillai Joseph who adroitly crafted the cover that embodies the themes of my book via abstract realism understood the layers of human experience; the latter is a phenomena that she captures in her vast portfolio of paintings. It is art that will help you understand the madness of the human condition, and it is art that will help you heal. Mark Rothko said it best: “I am interested in expressing the big emotions – tragedy, ecstasy, doom.”


Seth Godin defines art as an: “…human act, a generous contribution, something that might not work, and it is intended to change the recipient for the better, often causing a connection to happen.” I’m happy to live in an era where there is so much content created by artists that helps one understand why illnesses like schizophrenia, narcissistic personality disorder (NPD), clinical depression and psychosis exist. Individuals like Dr. Ramani Durvasula directs a light on illnesses like sociopathy, psychopathy and narcissism. She calls the latter the ‘second-hand smoke of mental illness’ and identifies childhood emotional abuse as an initiator. Despite the grandiosity and bravado of a narcissist, it is a shame-based mental illness.

Gaslighting is a typical form of manipulation, which I have personally experienced not only through family and erstwhile friends, but even cult-like religions that promised the end of the world and the coming of the Messiah. Cultural beliefs that are dysfunctional are not helpful or useful. There was a period where if you weren’t a lawyer, doctor or engineer, you were looked down upon. A generation that is not brought up on empathy, kindness and compassion will only lead to more dysfunctional generations replete with unhappy marriages, insidious divorces and multiple infidelities.

We Sri Lankans have suffered tremendously through political upheavals, wars, and generational trauma. Healing is an individual responsibility, and thanks to the right books and teachers, we can embark on that journey. Two such tools are Compassionate Inquiry by Dr. Gabor Maté, and Somatic Experiencing by Dr. Peter Levine. Sadly, history repeats itself thanks to the same gene pool being reproduced. We hear of the darkness that resides in us, more so in some than others: Understanding The Dark Triad is a great way to understand the insidiousness that resides in people.

Knowledge is power; and, it is the following of art whether visual or written that has helped me navigate the complexities of human behaviour. Dr. Gabor Maté talks of how parents who have subjugated their children to be people pleasers suffer from autoimmune conditions like multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis. He calls upon us to recognise our authentic self and connect with people who are sincere and caring.

Our reptilian brain wants us to reside in the past and see everything as a threat. We behave in the present and the future based on past data much like a forecasting tool powered by AI. We hear of the hedonic treadmill, which leaves the majority of us wanting to upgrade from a Nissan to a Mercedes, and are stuck in a debt trap. It may be true that STEM careers are the future, but there’s a vast difference between academic intelligence and wisdom. The former helps you do your job and the latter helps you navigate life.

It’s true that there’s an increase in economic migration happening in Sri Lanka, but there is also the younger generation undertaking a cultural migration. A younger generation that is sick of arranged marriages, and taking massive loans to have a fairytale wedding that is destined for divorce. It is art that has illustrated that romantic love was a recent invention (think the Victorian era), which has become a commercial enterprise.


Clearly the status quo does not work. Reality has led to a sense of hopelessness. This is apparent with the increasing use of drugs and social media to numb our perception. Viktor Frankle speaks of the meaning of life, and how doing good deeds, experiencing values like beauty through art and love through a relationship or suffering can help you and I navigate a life that is riddled with potholes.

Instead of voluntarily being stuck in a veritable rut accepting global misfortune, read authors like Yuval Noah Harari to know that the world has plenty of resources to fulfil everybody’s needs, but politics and utter selfishness is what keeps starvation and hopelessness alive. Maybe what we need are more stories; stories that make life more meaningful and more rewarding for future generations.

Alain de Botton talks about how we harbour a great deal of darkness in our hearts. And this is why art in whatever form gives us happiness and hope. Art can help us navigate the journey of loneliness that affects all of us. Loneliness like unrequited love and old age and the passing of time are part and parcel of the human condition. As Alain de Botton says one should contemplate the missing part of you that a work of art reminds you of. Friedrich Nietzsche complements this train of thought, and talks of how art can veil the horror of reality and help us face it.

There is no doubt that art in all its forms offers a rich tapestry of meaning that helps us decipher the complexities of life. If we actually increased the desire to consume art in the younger generation, we might create a healthier society and community that will live a life that is more rewarding.

Rage/Love: A Collection of Microtales by Rohitha Perera is available for purchase at The Jam Fruit Tree Publications.

Published on:

The Morning

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