Confession: Sometimes when I am walking down the street or driving along the road, I turn my head and look right at a beautiful thing I didn’t know was there. It is almost like someone says to me, “Look here. I want you to see this,” though I have heard no voice. My head turns to it and there it is, and my eyes are full of it, and my heart.
I open to drink it in, the full moon just coming white and misty from behind the clouds, or hanging its enormous full-blazed-orange globe over the hills in the fall. Another time it is a stunning crimson tree against the sky, or an impossibly beautiful V of birds, here and gone, calling. Or the light coming down, or a city skyline above the trees, or a child’s face upturned. Or a Jacob’s ladder of crazy spiderweb, two parallel bars fifteen feet tall from branch to grass. I stop when I can, and I look and look until I am full, or until the moment is gone.
Moments are so short. Moments of beauty, here and gone in a breath. Sometimes I think all beauty hurts the heart a little because we feel its passing. That is not my own thought, but I do not remember where it comes from – that the fleetingness and the passing of beauty is part of its ache and its joy. Keats talks about that at least, and recommends a treatment for it.
So soon gone.
Perhaps that is where art becomes our friend and our snare, because it promises to hold the moment.
Perhaps it is a photograph of a child dancing, or water droplets caught in midair. Or a painting of the lovely face that has not yet aged and now for-never will on this canvas. Or a sculpture of the perfect pose. Or the music caught on a page and a soundtrack that anyone can play at any time, re-creatable and everlasting. Or maybe in literature, all the words lined up just so, breathtaking, creating capture and transcendency where time no longer matters because the joy is safe. Held there and crystalized in a moment.
But seeing art that way leaves me feeling claustrophobic, because who wants to freeze a charming thing? It strikes of Miss Havisham’s wedding feast gone stale and cobwebbed, or Midas touching his daughter. Now you are forever lovely, and forever entombed.
I do not want beauties to be enshrined that way, not in my work nor others’ – not in words nor songs nor photographs.
And also, in the capturing hides a snare to catch our hearts, hence the Old Testament prohibition on carven images lest they tempt the soul. Whether we are making or appreciating art, perhaps we feel more possession and less longing, less urgency to enjoy before it vanishes, less ache. Perhaps more satisfaction.
And yet perhaps not.
Perhaps the best art is the kind that captures the fleeting sense, the ephemeral gift, the transitory visit, the angel lingering to touch the earth but only for a moment. Perhaps art’s best task is in its opening the heart to hold a joy it knows it will lose, a way of seeing that pairs with the purpose of beauty itself, whether in a pretty face or in a sunset, in the dinner arranged on a plate or in the perfect paint job that will soon be scratched.
It makes me think of “Into the West,” and Annie Lennox’s beautiful voice singing of passing.
Maybe it is our saving grace when the art captures but also does not capture, when the soul still turns unfilled from all its beauties unto the Good One, and cries a little against his chest.
He is the only forever-good, the only forever-beautiful, and all that we delight in pales against him yet also draws us near, and calls and calls and calls us in, and reveals glimpses of his radiance.
Almost like a voice saying, “Look here. I want you to see this.
on Me and live.”
What do you think? Do you know what I am talking about?