What will our legacy be?
One of the things I love most about home schooling is that we have the flexibility to make art a priority. Unfortunately, this doesn’t happen as often as it should. The sad truth is that the day-to-day of life often gets in the way, leaving art and creativity to fall by the wayside. This isn’t to say that there are no moments of beauty in the minutiae of our days — there are many, not the least of which is being able to attend daily Mass. But more days than not pass with work and errands and housecleaning and core subjects and appointments and everything else which occupies the day of a busy family taking up time and crowding out space that might be spent drawing, building, making and listening to music, walking in the park, strolling through a museum, or taking in a dramatic performance at a local theater. Too long without a beauty break, leaves us feeling bereft, weighted, hungry for something simple and pure and a space to breathe it all in.
When I lived in San Francisco and was trying my best to practice living a literary life, I worked my way through Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. While I’ve long since abandoned the practices she advocated, one I’ve never forgotten and have tried with middling success to continue is the “artist’s date”. Essentially, the artist’s date is a special time you set aside (Cameron says it should be weekly) that you actually put on your calendar and plan for, to do something that feeds your creative self and puts you in touch with art and beauty. It can be something as simple as browsing a book shop – no, browsing on Amazon does NOT count – or visiting a craft store to select new yarn for your knitting. It can be as solitary as taking in that foreign or independent film you’re intrigued by or attending a screening of the opera or a live theater performance or a concert. It can be a visit to a local museum, wandering the galleries and feasting your eyes on pictures that spark your imagination and contemplating harmonious lines that bring peace to your soul. It can be a walk through an arboretum or a public garden or other natural space. The artist’s date is a date you keep with yourself, ideally by yourself, to allow your mind, heart, soul to be transfixed, absorbed, and replenished by beauty. In much the way food supplies your body with energy and nutrients, placing yourself in regular proximity to real, beautiful art in any medium is food for your imagination and your soul. Just as a healthy life depends on exercise and nutritious food choices, if you truly want to live a creative life, making room for art and beauty in your life needs to be a priority.
Even though I know this, still I find it difficult to “take time” out of our busy schedule to go for a walk at the Nature Center or stroll the galleries at one of the nearby museums. While there are plenty of parents who take every opportunity to expose their kids to fine art in its various forms, I know there are others like me who feel so pressured by the “have-to’s” of life that we neglect this essential element of connecting with what it means to be human. But I neglect this to my peril, and to the peril of my son, as well. For if I tend to every other need in order to raise him to be healthy in spirit, mind and body, then how can I in good conscience neglect this essential element in his upbringing? How else will he learn the importance of cultivating beauty in the world and of being a faithful steward of it if I do not make time for and model these very things in my own life? If I do not make time to expose him to the very things he needs to be aware of for that call to stewardship to flourish in him?
As Catholics, we are called not only to be custodians of beauty in the world, but to make our lives a work of art and to leave a legacy of wonder behind. Both Blessed Pope John Paul II and Pope Emeritus Benedict the XVI exhorted all Catholics and Catholic artists to take beauty seriously, to embrace their unique role as stewards of beauty and to recognize God’s presence not only in the gifts of inspiration and talent that lead to great works of art, but also in the everyday ordinary events of our lives. Both holy fathers remind us of the source of all true Beauty and point us towards living an authentically holy life that is also authentically creative and fruitful. A mother, a teacher, a nurse is called to contribute to and bring beauty in the world, to create their lives as works of art in a similar way to the artist, whether poet, painter, or composer. We have art, as Nietzsche says, in order to not die from the truth of what life would be like without the source of all Beauty and Truth, and to help make our life in this exile more bearable by pointing us towards real Beauty, which is God.
A life starved of art is half a life. I am recommitting to making a greater effort to schedule and keep regular artist’s dates, both on my own and with my family, if not every week, at least once or twice a month. It’s a step in the right direction towards the path to helping each one of us become stewards of beauty in the world and discerning how to live artful, faith- filled lives that will leave a legacy of wonder behind.