Sunday, December 4, 2011

The Family as a Work of Art

I was the first one up this morning (the girls always sleep in when it is cold).  Left to myself, I picked up Wendell Berry's book What are People For? that I had recently received from my parents as a birthday gift and had not yet had time to peruse.  This work is a collection of some of Mr. Berry's essays.  Wendell Berry is a Kentuckian farmer, who speaks here in reference to troubles on his farm:

It used to be that I could think of art as a refuge from such troubles.  From the imperfections of life, one could take refuge in the perfections of art.  One could read a good poem--or better, write one.  Art was what was truly permanent, therefore what truly mattered.  The rest was 'but a spume that plays/Upon a ghostly paradigm of things.'  I am no longer able to think that way.  That is because I now live in my subject.  My subject is my place in the world, and I live in my place.  

We are accustomed to thinking of art as something that hangs in a museum, or sits reprinted on our bookshelves.  We indulge in art on occasion, but art has very little to do with our day to day lives.  Visiting a museum further contributes to the sense that these great artistic works exist proudly, without organic context, in a void, persisting timelessly.  And then there is life.  There are the stops and gos the ins and outs, real daily hectic modern life.  It may not be pretty but its real.

What if we changed our focus?  What if we made our families, our own natural circles, the location of art?  After all this is where all those significant pieces from the museum came from originally: homes, churches.  It is as though the existence of the museum stands to serve as a reminder that such beauty can no longer exist at home, at prayer.  These works must be protected from the ugliness of "real life."

I am not suggesting that we invest in a lot of artwork and proudly hang it in our homes, or even that we compose our own artwork and put it on the wall.  What I am suggesting is that we see our homes, our families as our lives' own work of art.  Like Berry we might then find that we live in our artistic subject and that our subject is our place in the world, a place of living.  Now this would be embracing vocation.

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