This week we saw ISIL smashing centuries-old art because the irreplaceable statues were actually “idols” made by the godless.
This week our state governer has cut funding for the arts to the bone while saying that he can “handle” ISIS, given his experience with those (teachers and firefighters, mainly) who have opposed him in recent times.
During such times (and there have always been such times), there is, for many, a temptation to question the value of making art. What does it matter?
However, this week’s news has also brought us articles confirming the value of the arts: “A Refuge of Beauty in Gaza” in which the artist Nidaa Badwan has created a small universe of art in her small home, “seeking a refuge from Gaza’s restrictive religious atmosphere.”
And Pat, from Colorado, calls attention to this week’s NYT’s “Modern Love” column, in which writer Betsy MacWhinney recalls a time when she used any means possible to solace her teenage daughter’s depression over the state of the world. Fresh out of ideas, she ”started leaving poems in her [daughter’s] shoes in the morning. [Her daughter] had used the shoes as a form of quiet protest [she stopped wearing shoes completely when George W. Bush was re-elected in 2004], so I decided I would use them to make a quiet stand for hope. When one of your primary strategies as a parent involves leaving Wendell Berry’s “Mad Farmer Liberation Front” in your child’s shoe, it’s clear things aren’t going well.
“What I wanted her to know is: People have been in pain before, struggled to find hope, and look what they’ve done with it. They made poetry that landed right in your shoe, the same shoe you didn’t wear for four months because of your despair.
“Before she went to school in the morning, I wanted her to read the poem “Wild Geese” by Mary Oliver that talks about not having to be good and not having to walk on your knees for miles, repenting. As Ms. Oliver writes, “You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.”
Or this, from Mr. Berry: “Be joyful, though you have considered all the facts.”
I would also recommend Jorie Graham’s "The Violinist in the Window-1918"—after Matisse—in her book Sea Change (2008)--first published in Poetry, March 2008:
Well, maybe all that wouldn't fit in a shoe. But worth reading, anyway.
You can't tell a teenager this, but sometimes we take our pain/our vision too seriously, and in so doing cut off the existence of possibility—that indefinable essence from which, after all, art springs. One of the blessings of having lived to nearly 70 years of age is that one has seen the impossible happen, more than once. Things CAN get better, and usually DO, although if one measures progress by what happens on any one day (or month or year or even decade), progress is not always visible. I take heart from the Taoist belief that, if left alone, evil will wither: that it takes its energy mainly from those who fear it and fight it. It is my belief that the restrictive beliefs behind ISIL will eventually be its own downfall, although those who do not “fight back” are often criticzed for condoning evil. The temptation to put “boots on the ground” instead of reacting with hope and compassion and the expansion of human rights. On Feb. 19, as cited on CNN, “ President Barack Obama called for a global effort to combat violent extremism and urged countries around the world to address the root causes that fuel groups like ISIS and al Qaeda….Obama urged countries to ‘break the cycles of conflict, especially sectarian conflict’ and called on governments to ‘address the grievances that terrorists exploit,’ both political and economic.” He went on to say,
"The link is undeniable. When people are oppressed and human rights are denied -- particularly along sectarian lines or ethnic lines -- when dissent is silenced, it feeds violent extremism. It creates an environment that is ripe for terrorists to exploit.”
Thanks to my newly-appointed recital page-turner, Mark, who, this week, reintroduced me to Victor Borge (1909-2000), child prodigy at the piano, a Danish Jew who, because he was playing a concert in Sweden, was able to escape Hitler-occupied Denmark by traveling to Finland and then to America, where he eventually became a citizen. In the following YouTube video, Borge is having fun with his page-turner, showing us that, even though making art is a serious thing, it is never so serious that one cannot poke a bit of fun at it—a good lesson for me this week. Thank you Mark. And thanks, Victor.