There is a great need within the human condition to embrace beauty in the face of horror.
We live in a troubled world. It has always been a troubled world. It seems a bit more troubled, of late, with terrorist attacks upon innocent people by groups who are nihilist by nature and enjoy killing more than living.The desire to seek beauty in life goes back through recorded time. This desire precedes recorded time; far earlier cultures drew on cave walls and painted their own bodies and faces with the juice of berries and plants before written language existed.
Killing can be traced back just as far. There is killing on a smaller tribal scale – where warriors in one tribe hunted down their tribal enemies, cutting off the heads of the opposition and subsequently kicking those heads around the campfire, or posting them on assorted spikes and trees. We have, as well, killing on a far larger scale in World War One and World War Two, clearly showing us that killing runs deep in human beings.
The nearly successful attempt of the Nazi regime to kill all the Jews of Europe illustrates this point quite well. One must also consider the crusades, which ran for decades and in which many were killed in the name of this or that god.And yet, all through human development, individuals have sought beauty in the visual arts, music, dance, poetry and film. We are a complicated species capable of much love and grace and at the same time capable of much horror and destruction.
When Matisse painted ‘the dance’, his great painting celebrating life and beauty and the love humans can exhibit, the world was gearing up for what would be called the Great War.
When Robert Frost wrote about the apples that fell from a neighbor’s tree, he was recognizing the juicy fresh goodness of life.
When Fellini made his best films, he rejoiced in the playfulness of individuals from many classes in society – with all their complicated emotions – but who embraced the dance of life.
In subsequent years, the Great War (also called The War That Will End War by H.G. Wells) came to be called World War One, as we now had to assign a number to a second war no one could imagine merely 20 years before. When you have to assign numbers to wars, you become quite aware of the human predilection toward violence.How does one make art in the face of horror? How does one compose a flute sonata, or dance on the beach or sing Puccini on a starry night, or write a poem about birch trees bending in the wind?
One does these things, one seeks beauty because this is the only road one takes, and this is the only path to a higher plane.
The painter goes into the studio and pick up the brush, turns toward the canvas and begins again, as if for the first time.
The world turns.