Art is Worth Fighting For
Yesterday’s Fourth of July holiday was a bit soggy around my neck of the woods, but the day turned out to have an unexpected silver lining. Though we didn’t get to enjoy cookouts or fireworks (and my daughter was in Maine with her dad), my beau and I did get to enjoy a very relaxing afternoon on the sofa with our two cats, Cinder Kitten and Bella Mama Thunderpaws. We got to watch a couple of good movies, laugh at some smart stand-up comedy, and even take (be still my beating heart) a short NAP. It felt like we were declaring independence from The Grind.
One of the movies we watched was The Monuments Men - a film that I have passed by many times because I am not a big fan of war movies. Having finally watched it, I’m sorry now that I let such a silly prejudice get in the way of enjoying such an inspiring and uplifting story.
The movie is based real life events that took place towards the end of World War II when a small task force of art experts (six Americans and a Frenchman) are sent to Germany to find, recover, and ultimately return the tens of thousands of pieces of artwork, including many masterpieces, that the Nazis stole and hid over the course of the war. I will not give away too much of the story (because, you really should watch it), but I was struck by this speech that George Clooney’s character, Frank Stokes, gives in an attempt to inspire his team of decidedly non-military museum directors, curators, and art historians:
You can wipe out an entire generation, you can burn their homes to the ground and somehow they’ll still find their way back. But if you destroy their history, you destroy their achievements and it’s as if they never existed. That’s what Hitler wants and that’s exactly what we are fighting for.
Art is often considered a nice-to-have. Though men are almost always willing to die for country, family, or gold, most would not even consider putting their lives on the line for a work of art. And yet, it is these works of art, these “achievements” that define us – more than our names, more than our lands, more than our wealth. Names, lands, and wealth are only temporary manifestations of our most rudimentary selves. Art, on the other hand, is the deep and complex reflection of our souls. It is the physical representation of our essence. The art that was at stake during WWII was some of the most iconic, inspiring, and cherished art ever created – each painting and sculpture a small but important piece of humanity’s grace.
Though our own artistic toils may never become a matter of international military operations, that does not lessen their value. Our freedom to consume and create art and literature of all kinds is one of our most important liberties. Art does not only reflect our souls, it inspires them. It lets us dream. It gives us hope. If that’s not worth fighting for, I don’t know what is.
What I’m Writing:
This week, I’m working on a feature piece about an upcoming open studio that’s going to take place right in my neighborhood. The event will feature a broad variety of artists including dancers, musicians, painters, potters, photographers, and bookmakers. As I prepare for the piece, I’m enjoying the chance to interview some of the participating artists about their work and the event.
I used to get pretty nervous when I had to interview a source for a piece, but now I mostly just try to have fun with the process. Wendy wrote a great piece on how to prepare for and conduct source interviews and I agree with her advice, especially the bit about being flexible. Though I always have a list of questions handy, I never pass up an opportunity to follow the interviewee’s line of thought down a new path. Usually, that’s where the best ideas and information come from (not to mention new story ideas).
Still from Wes Anderson’s movie, The Grand Budapest Hotel
I also, just this morning, had a new idea for a story that I’m going to start sketching out in my head (and then in a notebook). The idea came to me because of a real life project my beau and I are thinking about tackling. I love it when real life inspires story ideas. And, really, isn’t that always the way it happens? The other movie we watched yesterday was the gorgeously artful and delightfully quirky The Grand Budapest Hotel. Like The Monuments Men, this film also contained a great quote about art. In one of the opening scenes, the author of the book, The Grand Budapest Hotel, appears to be preparing for a speech. Reading from index cards, the writer explains the source of story:
It is an extremely common mistake. People think that the writer’s imagination is constantly at work,that he’s constantly inventing an endless supply of incidents and episodes, that he simply dreams up his stories out of thin air. In point of fact, the opposite is true. Once the public knows you’re a writer, they bring the characters and events to you and as long as you maintain your ability to look and to carefully listen, these stories will continue to … seek you out over your lifetime. To him who has often told the tales of others, many tales will be told.
Sometimes, all you have to do is listen.
What I’m Reading:
This week, I enjoyed another “quiet” novel. The Year of Pleasures is my first time reading Elizabeth Berg. As with so many of the novels I’ve read lately, I did not seek this book out, but rather stumbled upon it accidentally. I was killing a few moments while my daughter was talking “in private” with our friend who is a librarian. To avoid the appearance of eavesdropping, I thumbed through the collection of books for sale on the small library cart across from the circulation desk. The cover image and the dust jacket blurb were enough to persuade me to hand over $1.00 for the hardcover. I’m glad I did.
Here is the brief synopsis from Berg’s site:
When Betta Nolan’s husband, John, dies, she honors a promise she made to him to sell their house, drive across the country until she finds a town she likes, and move there. This is a novel about starting life over, and purposely enriching that life with the many pleasures, especially the small and free ones, that are always available to us. It also challenges the notion that a widow must or should behave in a certain way; and it shows how love does not die, but rather changes form.
Though Berg’s writing is lovely and the story (though mostly predictable) ultimately gave me a cozy case of the warm and fuzzies, what I enjoyed most about this book was the narrator’s voice. From the beginning, Betta felt like a real person to me. A cover blurb from The Charlottesville Observer references one of Berg’s other novels, Talk Before Sleep, but says something that I think reflects what I felt about The Year of Pleasures, “Berg captures the way women think …” There is an unaffected honesty to Berg’s characters that drew me in. I will admit to shedding a few tears over their tragedies, and also to smiling broadly at their triumphs.
And let’s not forget the blogs. Here are a few of my favorite writerly posts from this week:
Finally, a quote for the week:
Happy Independence Day. Have a great rest of your weekend & don’t forget to make time to read and to write.
Jamie Lee Wallace is a writer who also happens to be a marketer. She helps her Suddenly Marketing clients discover their voice, connect with their audience, and find their marketing groove. She is also a mom, a prolific blogger, and a student of the equestrian arts, voice, and trapeze (not at the same time). Introduce yourself on facebook or twitter. She doesn’t bite … usually.
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