Thursday, February 17, 2011

Art and the Language of Transcendence

I wrote a post recently on some very basic, simplistic steps that I take when I consider the merit of a piece of art. You can read that article here. However, if you are really interested in a fascinating interview on art, and especially how it might intersect in the life of a Christian, I encourage you to go and watch this thirty minute interview of Mako Fujimura. I would actually beg you to go and watch it if that would compel you to do so.

I find that I live in a place where art, as a concept of expression, is little thought about or understood. Art, whether it be oration, poetry, painting, or writing, is a vehicle through we we attempt to capture the transcendent. Even saying such a word like "transcendent" might sound a little arty to some readers, but let me explain what is meant by that word, and hopefully, it will help you begin to think about art and how you might more thoroughly enjoy it.

What is transcendence? Transcendence is something you experience. Everyone has a brush with the transcendent, they may not have had a word for it, but they have brushed up against it often. Transcendence is a feeling. It is a moment. Transcendence is that thrill you get when you ask a girl on a date who you really, really like, and she says yes. Transcendence is when you hold hands with your beloved for the first time. Transcendence is when your child takes its first step. Transcendence is when your child does the right thing and your heart swells. How do you know what is transcendent? You can know transcendence when you lack the words, when you lack the ability, to communicate the full extent of what you just felt. That is transcendence.

So what the artist is doing in poetry, in speaking, in painting, and in literature, what he or she is doing is trying to capture that moment or feeling. This is why certain songs move us. When a couple hears a song that is "their song", it jogs their memories of transcendent moments. Anything, any creative art, has the power to conjure these feelings. This is why art can haunt us and thrill us at the same time. My grandmother, who recently passed away, loved to buck dance. I can remember seeing her dance a jig when she was well into her eighties. She was full of life and joy, and it was infectious. When I see my daughter dance, it reminds me of that. It brings me....I was going to write joy, but it isn't joy. The word joy isn't big enough. I feel joy, sad, , hope, happy. I feel a connection between my daughter's life and my grandmother's life.

Dancing is art. We dance for a reason. We dance for love. We dance for joy. We dance because we long for touch. We cannot help it: our emotions compel us to move and paint and speak. Why must we cry at funerals? Because words won't do. They just won't do. Our feelings demand to be expressed, and so we weep.

Think of the movie "Old Yeller." Why do people cry when the boy shoots the dog? It isn't your dog. It isn't even a real dog. The dog doesn't even really get shot. So why cry? We cry because the essence of the story, the tragedy and the heroics of both boy and dog. We cry because sometimes duty and honor call us to do things that hurt us. That story, that art, touches something primal and beautiful that resonates within our souls.

This is what the artist is doing: from Rembrandt to Pollack. Think about what they are trying to "say" through their medium. What is Beethoven expressing in his 9th Symphony? And why do people like Hank Williams Jr.'s All My Rowdy Friends Have Settled Down? What was Andy Warhol going on about? Why do people still read Shakespeare? Why do people like Harry Potter?

Art is an attempt to capture the deepest things of the heart, to share the experience of one heart to another heart. In this way, all of language is art. I may say to my wife, "I love you." She understands what I mean by that, doesn't she? But somehow, that doesn't satisfy me. I may want to write her a note, or if I am brave, I might write her a poem. I might buy her a gift, or plan a romantic evening. This is expression and 'common' art that should not be overlooked.

So think about that the next time you read something or see a painting. Maybe you will find out why certain things resonate with you. Either way, I hope that we all can grow in our appreciation of the artistic disiciplines.

No comments: