This fall, my good friends at Greener Trees Reads are reading, discussing, and writing about Breath for the Bones by Luci Shaw. For the reading schedule and more about this group, check out Julie’s first week post at Greener Trees.
No one’s ever asked me “what good is art?” and wanted an answer. Once someone told me poetry was a waste of time, practically spitting out the dismissal as if that was all there was, end of conversation. But in my life, I’ve been surrounded by art lovers, creators, poets, and storytellers, whether they knew it or not.
Because wow, isn’t art everywhere? In running a business, in putting together a meal, or picking out the day’s clothes. But maybe in this world I’ve chosen to inhabit, seeing the creativity in all things, I forgot that there really may be some people asking the question “what good is art?” in search of an answer.
Or maybe it’s mostly those of us who care about art asking that question, lamenting how everyday life cuts into creative time, or wondering why we couldn’t have more practical, “important” interests to pour ourselves into. I have asked this question with my actions every time I decide making time to create is a lower priority.
When the world was created, it would have been enough to have it work, wouldn’t it? To include beauty seems gratuitous, a gift of grace, which I believe it is.
In the first two chapters of Breath for the Bones, Luci Shaw lingers over the simultaneous necessity and pointlessness of art and beauty. It doesn’t serve a practical purpose in the same way farming or cleaning, eating or sleeping does, but as humans, we just can’t help ourselves. We instinctively adorn, embellish, “move from just meeting practical necessities toward beauty” and refine that beauty into art.
To call something “gratuitous” implies a sort of embarrassing overabundance, stuffed to the brim and overflowing. Messy and excessive. It’s the opposite of simplicity, minimalism, practicality… ideals I’ve found myself gravitating to these days. Clean lines and just enough.
But I’d never equated “gratuitous” with “grace” before, even though the words and concepts share the same root. Beauty, unnecessary, yet the vital difference between staying alive and being alive.
It would be enough to leave the house in clothes, but a grace for them to fit well and express our personalities.
It would be enough to have a roof over my head, but a grace to be surrounded by art and books and beautifully colored walls.
It would be enough to have food and drink, but a grace to taste variety and color.
I think of all the unnecessary graces in my life… good coffee, the blue of the sea, music, sunlight in the curtains… and count them all as gifts.
Beauty is perhaps one of the few things that constantly calls us back to God…
So back to the question… “What good is art? What’s the point?” It’s a question that sounds like giving up, but the answer is grace, an abundance of a world that doesn’t just work, but points back to the first Creator, calling us back to hope.