Awaken Wonder: Life's Long Vigil & the Gift of Expression
The dignity of the artist lies in his dutyMarc Chagall
of keeping awake the sense of wonder in the world.
In this long vigil he often has to vary his methods of stimulation;
but in this long vigil he is also himself striving against
a continual tendency to sleep.
Marc Chagall is an inspiration as an artist but perhaps even more so for his dedication to "strive against the tendency to sleep" with the way he moved through life. He saw art as a gift to be applied toward the goal of awakening the sense of wonder. This certainly comes through in his art. I believe you could see it in his eyes.
Waking Up to a Sense of Wonder: Those Who Have Eyes to See
Of all the times to write this post, perhaps now seems initially the most preposterous. The world has been on lockdown. People have perished. The energy has been chaotic and confusing.
In my country, a deep and gaping wound has been reopened. There is a void of leadership and in that void a need for deep reflection. Who is it that we will choose to be?
And then there are the things that have yet come to light. So much is in flux. We are hurting. We are overwhelmed.
How can one speak of art in such a time as this when the world has clear and pressing problems that are nothing short of life and death, for individuals and for the heart of humanity? How can one write of wonder and beauty with so much pain swirling everywhere?
Yet, if we lose our sense of wonder in the world, should we give up on this long vigil and go back to sleep, then what? The hope of humanity lies in our ability as creators of our reality to keep the flame of beauty alive. And to do that we must have eyes to see.
Art and Dignity in Life's Long Vigil
In this time of turmoil and uncertainty, there is the necessity of staying with all that cannot be resolved, of finding the courage to be present to the pain. And yet none of us is served should we choose to shut our eyes to signs and wonders and the beauty of being on the way.
What is the best choice when it comes to creating art with integrity, to choosing honor and dignity as we navigate these times?
Chagall's "I and the Village," one of his earlier paintings, depicts bits of his hometown in a colorful array of floating images (read about it on the MoMA site), while the striking "White Crucifixion" offers an interpretation of the suffering of Jesus alongside images that speak to the suffering of the Jewish people in 1930s Europe (read about it on the Art Institute of Chicago site).
The two paintings could not be further apart in many ways in terms of subject matter, yet both awaken us to wonder. They help us to see things differently. And they do so because the artist gathered up the courage to guard against going back to sleep.
There is such dignity in life, such dignity in art. To keep vigil: is that not what we are called to do as artists? Is this not what we are called to do in times when there are no words and all we want to do is cry or sleep or anything to escape the madness and the pain.
And still life is beautiful if we have eyes to see and when we have a heart that we allow to be broken, yes, but always broken open.