In New York a few weeks ago, I went to the play “Death of a Salesman,” originally written by Arthur Miller in 1949 and now back on Broadway. The play is a tragedy, chronicling the slow unraveling of a man and the ensuing wreckage of his family as he grapples with the loneliness of his profession, the stress of making ends meet, the past mistakes that are sewn into his family’s future, and the high hopes his identity is pinned to. At its core, it is a play about how hard it is to be good in a world that doesn’t make it easy for those who want to be good.
I think it’s one of the most honest pieces of art I’ve ever seen, and it’s made me reflect on the power of honesty in art. When Van Gogh’s self-portrait stares back at you—his ear cut off and bandaged—it’s the honesty of it all that’s so arresting. The same is true when Luciano Pavarotti is caught off guard by the emotion and weight of his own performance when singing Nessun dorma with the L.A. Philharmonic, or when you read Mary Oliver’s poem “The Journey” and you know that beneath such honest words, there is so much life that was lived. When our art conceals nothing, when it doesn’t try to tell us anything other than the raw yet redeemable truth, that’s when it can pierce us, that’s when it can reach us.