Saturday, September 25, 2010

How Art May Save Us From Ourselves

Who was that stand-up comic who finished his set saying "Less killing! More art! Less killing! More art!" ? I wish I could remember your name, Dude, I'd give you props. That was a nice finish. I thought of that finish as I saw some old-master paintings on EWTV. (Yeah, that's right, I watch Eternal Word TV sometimes, you got a problem with that? No? Good!) I generally find EWTV pretty dismal and depressing. But the art -- that epitomizes what I came there for. And I wondered, Does it epitomize Catholicism for a lot of Catholics? And I thought, Would it help ease tensions between Muslims and Christians if they knew more about each others' art? And I thought, How could it help but ease tensions? Art is the expression of the deepest within us, it goes way past little things like fear and hatred and distinctions of religion. Here is a Western European painting from around 1300:

Here's a tile from Iran from around the same time:

So what were they fighting about? (OMG they still are aren't they? Maniacs! Murderers!) The amazing part is that even back then not all of them were fighting. You had to be a rebel to be a Western European back than and not display enmity to Islam, but it could be done.

(The Europeans were penning those big wild African elephants behind chain-link gates, chain-link as high as a wild African elephant. And as if that weren't bad enough, they were painting chevrons onto the elephants foreheads! Red-white-and-blue chevrons! But then a young slender earnest beautiful woman among them, who looked like Liv Tyler or Jessica Biel, as slender and earnest as that, struggled past their objections with the help of a young earnest Western man, risking trampling they threw the tall gates back open! And then it thundered and rained as they hugged like Edward Norton and Liv Tyler in The Incredible Hulk. Yes, as earnestly in love and as beautifully soaked with rain as that.)

It's very hard to kill someone with a painting. Paintings are very unwieldy weapons. That's just one of the nice things about them.

Hate tends to generalize: "They all blablabla..." "All of them! All of them want to yibbity yibbity yibbity..." Art draws you back into the present. You look, you really look. At the specific.

And just possibly when you look up from the pretty picture, or you're released from the spell of the organ music and incense or the chanting, you'll also really see that person, the one you're convinced is gonna GIT ya! here, now, as he or she is, and leave some of that frightened "All of them...!" ranting behind. Charging out on your stallion to slay Saracens is one thing; killing Salim, who has a shy and deep affection for the neighbors' daughter and wants to learn to paint, he's not very good yet but he's taking lessons and trying very hard, is quite another. We kill randomly, forgetting that everyone dies very specifically. We love specifically. We spare people and other creatures specifically. None of this is new, I know, I know...

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