Surface and Symbol

To send light into the darkness of men’s hearts-such is the duty of the artist. ~Robert Schumann

When God has difficult truth to convey to David, he sends him a storyteller. Because he knows that stories carry truth to the deepest parts of us. The parts of us that most need healing. When He teaches Moses about worship, it is a multi-sensory affair with incense, gold, cedar, silk, candles, bells. Why? Because he would have us breathe him….stand inside him…know Him viscerally.

Genuine poetry can communicate before it is understood. ~T.S. Eliot

Have you ever encountered a piece of music, a poem, a movie, that troubled you though you knew not why? That rankled your heart, your mind, for days? Or, perhaps, that somehow elevated and ennobled you, though you could not say how? Such is the power of art. Deep calling to deep. Soul to soul. In Ian Cron’s new memoir, he speaks of a literature professor known for his keen analytical abilities. He tells how sometimes this professor would read a passage to the students, close the book, and stand in silent reverie. “Sometimes it is wiser to reverence than to parse.”

I want to beg you to be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms and like books that are written in a very foreign tongue. ~Letters to a Young Poet by Ranier Maria Rilke

So much of myself is unknown to me. Like a skilled surgeon, art probes these unknown places, revealing what lies within. It is not always pretty. I do not always want to know. And sometimes, it leads only to more questions. But this is how I grow. This is what frees me from disastrous choices made to appease hungers I do not even know I have.

All art is at once surface and symbol.
Those who go beneath the surface do so at their peril.
Those who read the symbol do so at their peril.
It is the spectator, and not life, that art really mirrors.

~Oscar Wilde

An encounter with art is not for the faint of heart. It will always ask something of you. It will, if you let it, teach you about yourself. It will, if you let it, make you more than you are. I challenge you to pick up a classic work of literature, spend an afternoon in an art gallery, read a poem–out loud–letting the words wash over you, treat yourself to an artfully made film or an evening at the symphony. And listen….

Suggested Resources:

The American Film Institute’s Top 100 films– All American films, yes, but not a bad place to start.

Invitation to the Classics
or The Joy of Reading– If your education, like mine, was woefully spare on classic literature, these books will help you know what to read. Invitation to the Classics tells you why the work is significant and gives suggested translations/editions. The Joy of Reading has wonderful synopses and includes a ten-year reading plan.

Though my house is full of art books, I believe nothing compares with standing before the work itself. Include visits to great museums like The Metropolitan Museum of Art or MOMA in New York, The Smithsonian in Washington, or The Getty in Los Angeles as part of your travels. And frequent your local museums and art galleries, however humble.

A Child’s Introduction to Poetry is a beautiful book to share with young ones you love, and not a bad place to begin yourself if poetry is new to you. My copy of Good Poems, compiled by Garrison Keillor, is dog eared and worn from much love. You can also meet some of my own favorite bards in the post Thoughts That Breathe, Words That Burn.

There is nothing like sitting in a live music venue and letting the music wrap itself around you, pound in your chest and seep into your pores. True, here in Nashville we have more than our fair share of options. But wherever you live, it is there to be found if you search it out. If you live near a city of any size, I’ll be willing to wager your symphony will do something out of doors (and maybe free) this summer. Visit a writer’s night at a local cafe. Save your pennies, and take a road trip if necessary, to hear your favorite legendary rock band or Indy artist do their magic in person.