By James K.A. Smith, IMAGE
The long human grind of mere survival, still a daily reality in too many places, has always threatened to consume any time or energy for play. Plato’s philosopher-kings banish poetry from the city, while consumerism’s corporate-kings are more sly, turning every endeavor into a commodity. Fascists shut down the theater while the gods of stem shut down the music program.
But human longing has always managed to overcome such threats in order to make art that limns the beyond. Somehow our ancient forbears, exhausted by hunting and gathering, made time to create the ancient beauty that adorns the walls of caves in Lascaux. A Hebrew shepherd, and the poor of Appalachia, made stringed instruments sing. Those oppressed by slavery bequeathed to us jazz and the blues. We don’t deserve A Love Supreme. Out of the unspeakable horrors of the Shoah, Night appeared.
Every work of art that is true or beautiful is, one might say, a pièce de résistance, telling the truth about how the world really is and offering us a portal to what we’re called to be. Such art resists lies, apathy, and all the forces that would diminish us to mere consumers or enemies or copulating pieces of meat. Such imaginative works are at once disconcerting and enticing. They remind us that we’re not as good as we think we are, and they call us to so much more than this. As in Terrence Malick’s Thin Red Line, a dappled light finds its way through the cathedral of palms while war rages below, making us look up and wonder. And hope.
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