By: Travis Naughton
“The world is burning, people are sick, oppression is real, and in the middle of all that I just finished my book. It’s insignificant in the big scheme of things, but feels good in my own tiny space.” – Sara Bennett Wealer
My friend Sara is a gifted author. She’s already had three Young Adult books published, including “Rival”, (one of my all-time favorite YA books), and she just finished writing her fourth. She has every reason to feel good about her accomplishments, yet in light of the horrors plaguing the world right now, I get the sense that Sara feels guilty about celebrating her artistic achievements. That makes me sad.
Of course, Sara is right: the world IS burning (Minneapolis), people ARE sick (Covid-19), and oppression IS real (racism). But she’s dead wrong if she thinks that writing a book is in any way insignificant. I contend that a feat such as hers, accomplished in the midst of all this chaos, is nothing short of miraculous.
Kurt Vonnegut said, “(The arts) are a very human way of making life more bearable. Practicing an art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow, for heaven’s sake.” An artist can help other people’s souls grow as well. What would you call such a gift if not a miracle?
Sara is far too humble to agree that her art is a miracle, but I think she would agree that art is essential to our survival in this frequently terrifying world. A good book or a funny movie can provide a much-needed respite from reality. A stroll through an art museum or an evening at the theatre can cause a man to contemplate his very existence. Remember how it feels to go to a live music concert? How would you describe that feeling? Therapeutic? Cathartic? Miraculous?
George Bernard Shaw said, “Without art, the crudeness of reality would make the world unbearable.” I completely agree. However, I would like to amend that statement by adding, “Without artists, the human condition would be intolerable.”
I’m fortunate to know some incredibly talented artists who make life much more than merely tolerable. In addition to Sara, I have another good friend who is an amazing writer, and her name is Melissa Scholes Young. I’ve written about Missy before in this column, specifically about her stunningly beautiful novel “Flood” which takes place in our hometown of Hannibal, Missouri. It was featured as the “One Read” book at Jefferson City’s Missouri River Regional Library a couple of years ago, and I highly recommend that you give it a read this summer.
Hannibal also happens to be the hometown of Sara’s husband Adam Wealer, a childhood friend of mine who became an accomplished trombone player in the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. Adam and I played in our high school jazz band together, along with several other talented musicians. I’ve previously written about one of them, our band’s drummer Matt Kane, who is now a professional recording artist in New York. Matt’s latest Jazz album, “The Other Side of the Story”, was in consideration for a Grammy award last year.
Jenny McGee is a Southern Boone resident and a gifted artist. I met Jenny when her kids were students at the primary school. In talking with her for just a few minutes here and there at school, I was able to catch a glimpse of her beautiful soul. After being diagnosed with advanced breast cancer several years ago, Jenny focused on her art, where she said, “color, texture, and unfiltered expression could connect pain and healing”. Her paintings are gorgeous and deeply moving, a reflection of the artist herself.
I could go on and on. I am surrounded by art and artists. We all are. And thank goodness for that.
Recently, there was a lively debate taking place regarding changes to the music program at Southern Boone Middle School. Despite not agreeing entirely with the new direction of the program, I am comforted by knowing that the reason for the changes was to expose kids to as many types of artistic expression as possible.
I do worry about the future of the arts in schools. With budgets being cut as a result of falling tax revenues due to the pandemic, I fear that the arts may be among the first programs to be de-funded. It could come down to a choice between saving the arts or sports. I’ll tell you, as much as I love sports, I can live without them. In fact, we have all lived without them since the coronavirus crisis hit. That being said, I am simply unable to fathom a life without art.
The arts are essential to our mental and spiritual well-being. Try to imagine what this long period of social distancing and self-isolation would have been like without art. No books, no music, no dancing, no color-by-numbers, no keep-your-kids-busy craft projects, no video games, no Netflix? No thank you!
What can we do while the world burns? Turn to the arts. We can sing, dance, play an instrument, listen to some old records, binge-watch our favorite TV shows, have family movie nights, paint a picture, sculpt a garden gnome, throw a pot, crochet, sew, bedazzle, tie-dye, build a treehouse, redecorate a room, restore an old hot rod, write a poem, write a limerick, write a haiku, write a newspaper column, or even write a book.
In the big scheme of things, art is anything but insignificant. It is our salvation.