Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Art's Mirror

It is often remarked that tough times try men's souls, and that in such times they are found firm or lacking. True enough. Less often but as truly, observers of God's curious creatures find that peace tries souls too. In the absence of strife, does a man choose to create or does he find a way, or fulfill a need, to destroy? I would note that art tries the soul, that great works of art thrust man into profound realms, and what he does there, if not what he is, what he aspires to.

Years ago I went to the movies with a new acquaintance. After the show, as per my way, I began to prod her for a response. And prod, and prod, and prod. Should said prodding have been of the electrical variety she surely would have perished, but I persisted in stupefaction at her indifference. Of course excellent and terrible movies provoke us, but nothing is so middling that one can't weigh in.

Today I again risked discovering someone by touring a few halls of the Met with two fellow educators and intellectuals.  Not that I feared for them, but it was a risk, as experiencing art with someone must be. Who will they turn out to be? Well, I couldn't have been happier. Who has an eye for perspective and tone, who gesture and proportion. Spiced with my own wit and wisdom, we strolled the halls a trio of élan and perspicacity. Naturally the experience brought previous Met ventures to my mind, different times with different friends and no two trips ever the same. It is a curious realization how much of one's life revolves around the arts, how much life revolves around the arts.

How ingrained in how many minds the hand of Socrates' grasping his cup of death, how deep and far now run the currents of his thought. How many friends were made playing musical poker with Haydn, how many conversions in the halls of Bach's polyphonic cathedrals.

Of course, what's reflected back isn't always flattering, and not just the secret delights man takes in the obscene, but all manner of perverse responses to art. Who is not somewhat thrilled by the devastating finality of Hamlet or Antigone, regardless of the tragedy, or the fleshiness of an ostensibly chaste painting? Yet while some reactions reveal our unsavory natures, others illuminate our uniquely cultivated vices. Prominent among these is inconsistency. Who raves in detail about the genius of Orwell, pops in V For Vendetta for a Saturday night movie, and then votes for statism. Even more curious is what I notice in some performers who don't like to attend the performing arts, which I take to mean they can't be bothered if they're not involved. Take away too the dilettantes, I beg you.

There is power in expression, but it requires an agent. Dare a man sieze it and turn it on himself? The end, though, ought not be reducing artistic encounters to navel-gazing exercises, but respect and gratitude for craft, and awe at what can be unlocked, or unleashed.

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