Sunday, June 11, 2006

art inspiring art on a hot sunday afternoon in alabama.

Sometimes I wish I had a liberal arts education.

Not often, mind you, because I enjoy the work I do, and a liberal arts education doesn't provide many marketable skills (not that I need a degree to be a barista, but you know what I mean). On days like today, though, I wish I knew more about art and literature. I wish I had a better way to explain my thoughts. Mark, my professor at Vanderbilt, was right when he said that language sucks in communicating exact words and ideas. We spend most of our time defining words. If we have a common definition, we can at least hope for a common understanding. Language sucks, but it's all we've got.

I discovered Deb Talen yesterday. There was one song in particular that I really liked, called "The Gladdest Thing." Deb Talen used Edna St. Vincent Millay's "Afternoon on a Hill," adding additional lyrics and a melody. It's the idea of art generating more art that has me wishing I had a liberal arts education. This is what happened with Auden's "Musee des Beaux Arts", which is describing a painting called "The Fall of Icarus." Lane is reading a book right now, called March, that is an expansion of the father's life in Little Women. Ahab's Wife describes, isn't it the fisherman in Moby Dick? Anyway, the idea of art inspiring more art, creation purely for its own sake, is what I'm thinking about today.

Art inspiring more art, different from art capturing a life experience. But it's the latter that has happened the past few times I've been to a traditional worship service (which have, coincidentally, all been UMCs). I've begun to see elements of literature in the experience of traditional worship. On Palm Sunday we were in a traditional service, listening to the story of Jesus entering Jerusalem, a king on a donkey, with children in the streets announcing his arrival. As I listened to the story I thought of Flannery O'Conner, who wrote short stories which illustrated the ugly underbelly of southern religious culture. But Flannery O'Conner was a devout Christian, and in every story there was some figure that represented Christ. Usually the figure was ironic and absurd - not at all what you'd expect from a savior. Listening to the story of Jesus, I finally got what Flannery O'Conner was saying. Jesus, the king of the Jews, riding into his holy city with a makeshift parade and no official recognition. Not only so, but he was intentionally riding toward his death. It's ridiculous. This man, Jesus, was utterly, beautifully absurd.

So this is what's on my mind today. Art inspiring art versus art describing life. And since lately I haven't been able to complete a sentence, much less explain a thought, I thought I'd better spit it out while I could.

The Gladdest Thing
Deb Talen
(bold lyrics are from "Afternoon on a Hill", by Edna St. Vincent Millay)

I will be the gladdest thing
Under the sun
I will touch a hundred flowers
And not pick one.

I will look at cliffs and clouds
With quiet eyes,
Watch the wind bow down the grass,
And the grass rise.


Doesn't each of us have a place
Where we belong.
Could be a sidewalk crack
Or a sad song.

Inside our searchings is desire
To etch a silent thought in stone
To make a tender heart known.

I will be the gladdest thing
Under the sun
I will touch a hundred flowers
And not pick one.

I will look at cliffs and clouds
With quiet eyes,
Watch the wind bow down the grass,
And the grass rise.

And when the lights begin to show
Up from the town,
I will mark which must be mine,
And then start down!


Everybody wants to be a hero
Or a savior of small things
I want to be champion of evening
To forget not the beauty of the in-betweens.

Every one of us an orphan
Our bodies born from dust of the stars.
We can comfort each other in this place
I can look into your eyes
And see my own face.

13 comments:

Heather said...

My thoughts... Any creation from humanity is art inspired by art. Whatever we do is somehow inspired by God's creation. Art from art from art. I love it.

Creation for the sake of creation is something that resonates with me. It makes me feel peacefula nd also joyous.

Mary said...

I didn't give you Deb Talan a few months ago? or was that Valerie?
She is great.

I had a liberal arts education and I don't have any marketable skills (YET). I wish I knew more about art and literature too. This is why I keep Lane around.

buf said...

just want to say it is AWFULLY hot on this sunday afternoon in alabama. :) and the art inspiring art stuff is cool too. :) but mostly, it's just HOT!!!!

Stephanie said...

Yes, Maughry, you gave me Deb Talen way back when - but yesterday was the first time I've listened to it. I really like it.

buf said...

(the other buf comment was Carrie, the one who never signs her name :) - can I just say I loooove Edna St. Vincent Millay?! ohhh Lord I love her. I have her biography - Savage Beauty - if you wanna borry it ever :) -- janet

Mary said...

Yes, the weather is SO AWFULLY WONDERFUL here in Massachusetts on this Sunday. It even got a little bit cold this evening.
I do not miss that Alabama heat ONE BIT.

Heather said...

I am with Janet, BTW, I Love Edna.

Greg said...

I love this post. It's about all the great things in life: literature, religion, and donkeys. And your insights are terrific. In literary criticism, we call what you are describing "intertextuality," but I like the way you put it better. A brilliant set of observations well wrought. I wish you were in one of my classes.

Stephanie said...

Thanks Greg. I wish I was, too.

Brian said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Brian said...

hey, maybe we should move to boston too!

Liz said...

Just wanted it to be known that I suggested Deb Talon a few months back as well!!! =)

Heather said...

Who is Deb Talon and I am so jealous of my husband for getting to take Greg's classes. I want to take one of Greg's classes!