A- A A+

The Arts: What Art Intends to Do to Us

By Janet Walton, SNJM

I moved this summer. I had too many pictures to hang in a smaller apartment. Though I put up familiar pictures, they were in new places. Friends commented that they saw something they had never seen before because of the placement of the pictures.

I expect art to change me. It may be from a feeling, an insight or from admiration of the skills involved in producing the art. Sometimes, art disturbs me; it hurts too much. I offer three examples.

1. Last summer, when I was in Copenhagen, I went to an exhibit of "The White Buses" at the National Museum. It was an interactive show about the Danes who rescued Jews from German occupation camps. I learned facts that I did not know (the Danes rescued more than 17,000 Jews on white buses) and there was more, too. I thought about how I make decisions about my responsibilities as a world citizen in the face of blatant injustice. When would I risk my life for another?

2. As a part of my commitment to our community's actions around human trafficking, I plan a worship service, every year, about this reality that is so near and so far. This year, I invited a dancer to express the emotions in various scenes in the story of a violated woman in the Book of Judges (chapters 19-21). The slow, subtle changes in her body that accompanied the reading of the narrative helped us to feel in our own bodies the horror of a woman betrayed and murdered; greed, regardless.

3. Several years ago there was an exhibit at the Met, called "Savage Beauty," costumes by Alexander McQueen. Ordinarily, I would not have been drawn to a costume exhibit, but the Met had extended its hours to midnight for the last weeks in order to accommodate all the people who wanted to see it. McQueen wrote that he intended the costumes to be expressions of culture, of politics and of identity. The exhibit was awash in imagination, with an amazing combination of textures, colors and shapes in response to a particular historical moment. I felt challenged to open myself beyond predictable parameters from what I saw and felt, particularly in the ways I relate to other people. Though there were many people in every part of the exhibit at the same time, few words were spoken. In quietness, people sought space for feeling something very particular about each costume.

Why art? Many reasons: to experience moments of utter beauty, of forgotten emotions, of new ways of thinking, of courage to act differently. Art intends to interrupt, to layer, to challenge, to comfort, to reinforce...