10.11.2010

What's in Your Heart

In response to Mr. Pond, Healing the World

I took art lessons from my mom when I was younger. And by 'when I was younger' I mean that I pretty much did that, sporadically, all throughout growing up, and almost certainly still could. It would be as simple as taking a sketchbook with me one of these days and explaining that I've lost some of my knack of drawing horses and it would be helpful to have that back next time I want to sketch a unicorn.

Mom, a master artist and veteran teacher, once let me and some of my fellow homeschool students (friends whose parents traded off with mine to teach us different subjects) trace out our names in fancy fonts from a book. We could pick any font we wanted. I think mine involved tree roots and birds. A young man in the group picked a ghoulish font with spiders, and Mom suggested he pick something more cheerful. That's the first time I recall her saying the very catchy catch-phrase that even now, nearly twenty years later, still gets fished up by my mind when necessary.
"What's in your heart will come out in your art."
It rhymes, yes. It's the sort of thing a teacher might say to a pre-teen student, yes. It's also true.

Mr. Pond's latest installment in the blogalectic makes a further defense of the solitude necessary for writing:
"The question is not token philanthropy, but genuine, radical commitment to healing the world—to which we each have something unique and irreplaceable to give. The ethic of exclusion does not, however, rule this out. In fact, I would argue that for exclusion to be ethical, it must be a conscious part an individual’s role in healing the world.

Because I believe my role to be—at least in part—that of a Teller of Tales, then I must seek solitude and exclusion to fulfil that role well. Solitude strengthens the heart and feeds the imagination, so that when a writer comes down from the mountaintop, they can give hugs as well as receive them. And they can write, giving utterance to the heavenly vision seen in solitude through a break in the clouds."
I need this defense to be true. I need it because today, much as I wanted to drive out to see Mom and my sister and my niece, I stayed home to put several hours of dedicated time into novel, to finish a short story, to post a blog, and to start catching up on email. I need all that work to mean something, because otherwise I gave up precious time with some of the people I love most on earth.

So what does it mean—all this pouring of time into the creation of worlds from words? What exactly do I have to offer this world by writing a novel against ridiculous odds, keeping up a tiny aspiring-writer blog, making amateur music, and all this other writers' art?

We all have one thing to offer: what's in our hearts.

Which, perhaps, translates into some of the same needs that drive us both to enjoy art and to create it: order from chaos, hope from despair, light amid darkness, healing from destruction. Something to believe in when the world is incomprehensible.

That's my philosophy of art, right there. I got it first from my mom, from her words and her own work, and all the great art I've loved—Michelangelo's Pietà, Raphael's Holy Family, everything about the duomo in Siena, the Chronicles of Narnia, Chesterton's Orthodoxy, Dante's Paradise, the Butchart gardens, the psalms—reinforces it.

I don't have a way to make sense of all human suffering, but I know the power of beauty, created beauty, to offer healing. To heal the world, we must heal human beings. That Hideous Strength helped me work through some of my struggles. Harry Potter brought order out of chaos for me. The view out my window when I first moved to Bellingham brought me hope from despair.

I'm not sure what I'd have to offer the world anymore if not for these things. It's only right that I give something back.

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