The Impact of Art

Last Monday I got to speak at a homeschool conference about why art, in particular theatre, was important. Since one of the main things theatre has done for me was help me find myself, I wanted to share some of those thoughts here as well.

The impact that theatre has on my life goes way back, twenty years ago, when I was a withdrawn eight-year-old girl.

My older sister, Anna, was very theatrical. She was always acting. One year for a Christmas present, my parents signed both of us up for drama classes. I don’t remember much from that first class, but I do remember the recital.

Our drama instructor had put me in a scene (debating whether cats or dogs were better) and given me an Aesop fable to perform. The scene went fine, but the fable….

It was a lot of words for a shy, dyslexic girl to memorize and speak in front of a crowd of people. So many words in fact, that I wasn’t able to do it. So I performed it with script in hand, not at all disguised by the pretty paper we put on the back of it to look like a book.

Ashamed of my inability to memorize, I ran off stage crying before I had finished reading the fable. No moral for that tale.

After that day, I was certain I would never do theatre again. Obviously, I have since I now help run a theatre company. For one reason or another, I kept returning to it. Through the years of performing, I came out of my shell and found a confidence that I did not have.

Self-confidence is probably one of the most obvious ways that theatre can impact children’s lives.

But there are others. As an adult, when I think about why art is important to me it is not because of the confidence it brings, but because it is a mirror.

In Act 3 of Hamlet, the Prince of Denmark says of acting “the purpose of playing, whose end, both at the first and now, was and is, to hold as ’twere a mirror up to nature: to show virtue her feature, scorn her own image and the very age and body of the time his form and presence.”

We use mirrors to see ourselves. We can’t get an accurate picture of our face without outside help. Art can be used to reflect a picture of our core being, our soul, our humanity. As I have been exposed to art in its many forms, I have found that can it challenge me, comfort me, affirm me, and give me hope.

I’ll start with a challenging example. I’ve talked about how I am working to change the subtle ways that I struggle with begin racist before. One thing that I did not immediately recognize when I first realized that I needed to repent of that sin was how dismissive I was of the extent of racism that minorities face today. It was easy to buy the line that the “mainstream media” was “exaggerating” things.

I gained a different perspective when I watched the movie “Dear White People”.

(As an aside, I have been upset by the controversy swirling around Netflix’s remake of it. Nothing about that movie was “anti-white”. Personally, I found it to be very fair and balanced. I fear those who feel like the movie was an attack, went in with the goal of being offended.)

The movie was a very eye-opening and disturbing look at how disrespected and diminished minorities are. In watching that movie, I had to wrestle with how easily I dismiss others pain “because I didn’t mean to offend them.” and realized that if I truly value a person, I am going to take their hurt seriously and do my undermost to understand that pain and seek to learn how to interact with them in ways that communicate respect and dignity.

 

Art can also provide great comfort. I’ve mentioned before how I lost a very good friend to suicide. In the first several months especially, I struggled with so many emotions that I didn’t know what to do with them, and I often pushed them aside and ignored them.

A few months in, I got to watch a one-act based off of a Greek play, “The Trojan Women”. In it, a mother is grieving the loss of her family and home. As I watched the actors go from tears to cold horror to screams of pain, I thought about my loss.

The tragedy of the play took on my tragedy. I found such comfort in seeing the tears that at the time I could not weep reflected back to me.

I found such comfort in seeing the tears that at the time I could not weep reflected back to me.

Art can also be a great affirmation of the beauty and hope that is in the world. The other weekend, I went to see the “Last Days of Judas Iscariot” performed by Northampton Community College. In the final scene, Jesus travels to hell to visit Judas whose appeal for release has been denied. Jesus goes to reassure Judas of His love for him, to offer him a way out if he would only take Jesus’ hands.

But Judas refuses. He instead accuses Jesus of abandoning him to his fate and literally spits on His face, screaming and swearing at Him to leave.

There’s a lot going on there to think about, but as I watched this struggle between the characters, I thought of my own relationship to Jesus and how I often scorn His love and help because I feel that He has abandoned me to my fate. When the character of Jesus was affirming His love for Judas, it reminded me of HIs love for me

When the character of Jesus was affirming His love for Judas, it reminded me of HIs love for me and His continual offer to free me from my doubt and bitterness that I struggle with if I would but accept His love and take His hands.

It was amazing to watch because though it looks different, I betray Jesus all the time. Yet He still loves me. He died for me. And He comes to me in my darkness to rescue me.

The reflective nature of art is why I think it is so important. It is why I wanted to keep my theatre going after my older sister stepped down. I want to invite others to have their own experience of seeing themselves more accurately because of a show, or a drawing. I want to encourage others to wrestle with the beauty and pain of life that we can often push aside.

Art often gets dismissed as unnecessary, an extra activity that can be removed if there is a lack of money or time. I strongly disagree. I know everyone is different, but in my life, art has been one of the most powerful tools to help me bloom into the person God made me, either in giving me confidence or giving me understanding.

Have you had similar experiences with art? What about it is important to you?

 

 

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Hidden Figures

Last week was Martin Luther King day and I reblogged a great post by Tim Fall, author of post by Tim Fall, author of Just One Train Wreck After Another. I mentioned in my preamble to his post that I had recently seen Hidden Figures with my sister. These are my thoughts, with a touch of review, about the film.

(Before I get too far into this though let me say, go see it.  If you can’t afford to take your family out to the movies, make sure you rent it as soon as it comes on DVD and make everyone watch it.)

As a white woman who grew up in a mostly white community, I have always been drawn to books and movies that dealt with the issues of slavery or racism. For many years, Remember the Titans, was my favorite movie. I don’t know what drew me to that as a child, except that I have always admired the richness of the African American culture, but as an adult, I have been drawn to media that dealt with those issues out a desire to understand.

This was especially true after I moved into South Bethlehem and began to realize the subtle racism that existed in me. Confronting your own darkness is never pleasant and can be difficult to overcome. I had, and still have, a predominantly white community.

So the question I have often wondered is how does a white girl in a white world continue to move away from the lies of racism?

This is not a complete answer-by any means-so don’t take it as such, but I have found that media can help me come to a better understand the racism that we white people often don’t notice.

Dear White People was such a movie, with examples of both subtle racism and outright horrific parties built around making fun of people. Things I was blissfully unaware of. Things I needed to know.

The play Honkey was a powerful exploration of how we can be demeaning and dismissive even in our attempts to overcome racism.

Hidden Figures didn’t give me new information; it gave new meaning.

Getting to journey with the three women at the heart of the movie was incredibly powerful. It took racism as a concept and made it deeply personal by showing it at work in areas of life that I could relate to.

 

From coffee pots to water fountains, to the Library (that one shocked me), Hidden Figures craftily (in a good way) used ordinary elements of everyone’s life, whether you are black or white, to make you get a picture of the pain that our African American brothers and sisters experienced back then and still do today.

The breaking point revolved around the segregation of bathrooms. That hit me the most because I have to go to the bathroom all the time. Imagining the inconvenience and humiliation the character, Catherine, had to endure just to use the bathroom, simply because she had another skin color, really impacted me.

I nearly wept in the theater.

When I watch the movie in the privacy of my own home, I probably will weep.

 

The abuse and hatred and disdain we heap on one another is unfathomable to me. It’s easy to think that this kind of evil is something of the past. Yet we often don’t see the ways we allow ourselves to feel superior to another because things are “so much better now” and it is somewhat “controlled”, slipping out in “insignificant” ways.

This is not easy for me to confess, but when I first moved into the city, I was horrified to realize that I would often cross to the other side of the street if I saw an African American man walking towards me. It had more to it than just race, there was classism and an unnecessary fear of men mixed in there as well, but a lot of it had to do with race.

Where did that come from? I don’t know. But it was there, evil hiding in my heart.

I don’t do that anymore, but I know there are other ways that I still struggle with feeling superior to those who are “different”. Hidden Figures gave me a glimpse of the pain that even small actions-nonchalantly crossing to the other sidewalk for instance- can cause.

It’s easy for us to say along with Kirsten Dunst’s character “I don’t have anything against y’all”. We need to hear, “I know you probably believe that.”, and be challenged to examine ourselves.

So please go watch this movie. I think we need it, especially right now, as we can be so quick to dismiss the way our actions and words impact people. We need to be reminded that people who are different from us are still people. We need to seek to understand their perspective and their pain. We’ll learn much from them if we do.

Hopefully, I’ve sold you on this film. It has a great message. And I believe it is a solid film.

My only critique of the movie was that it had too much greatness and not enough time. Each of the three women portrayed in the movie are powerhouses, but I felt like we didn’t get enough time with them, especially the woman who wanted to become an engineer. I connected to Catherine and Dorothy Vaughn’s one liner of “I know you probably believe that” will stick with me forever, but I felt like Mary was under used. I would have liked to have gotten to know her better through the movie.

But that small complaint is an effect of the strength of the movie’s characters.

Now go see this movie.

And if you have seen it, what did you think of it?

Or for a deeper questions:

Are there areas in your life where you’ve had to fight subtle racism?

What are ways that we can move towards a better understanding and accepting of each other?