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From Bill – On Beauty, Money, and My Dad

January 27, 2016
Photos by H. Scott Heist

Photos by H. Scott Heist

The work at Touchstone– this love and service of beauty in the form of theatre– finds its way out of the rehearsal room to the stage and spills over into everything we do. I can’t seem to not talk about it. It sets the fire and passion for learning in our educational programs and provides the framework and inspiration for our large Community-Based endeavors. As David Brooks recently wrote in the NYTimes: “Beauty is a big, transformational thing, the proper goal of art and maybe civilization itself …Beauty conquers the deadening aspects of routine; it educates the emotions and connects us to the eternal.”

The art critic Frederick Turner wrote that beauty “is the highest integrative level of understanding and the most comprehensive capacity for effective action.” And thus what we learn in its service provides useful insights, and these we’ve tried to apply to stimulate creativity in the business sector with our Corporate Creativity Events.

Brooks goes on to say:

“The shift to post-humanism has left the world beauty-poor and meaning-deprived. It’s not so much that we need more artists and bigger audiences, though that would be nice. It’s that we accidentally abandoned a worldview that showed how art can be used to cultivate the fullest inner life. We left behind an ethos that reminded people of the links between the beautiful, the true and the good – the way pleasure and love can lead to nobility.”

Well, here’s perhaps where I part ways with Mr. Brooks a bit. He’s too polite. We didn’t “accidentally abandon” anything. We consciously chose to place beauty second to utility, creature comforts, and money (or third or fourth or fifth) Blame it on the all too sensible Puritans, or the excesses of the Mother Church that forced the Protestant Reformation. Blame it on the Dutch and the materialism of the ever growing domination of the market place. But it was a choice, not an accident. I’m speaking in broad generalities here, but to put it simply, we all too often choose money and safety over beauty and risk. When I was discussing the necessity of choosing a creative life with a patron of Touchstone recently, she said, “Ah, but that takes a lot more work.” Yeah. It does, and so often we choose the easier route, the one, as they might say, “more traveled by”.

Whenever I travel abroad, I always am struck by how much more the arts are appreciated by people who are not Americans. In Ireland, to be an artist, particularly a writer, is to be a national hero. In England, to be an actor is to be a bulwark of national pride and identity. In Russia or Chile or Hungary, to be an artist is to be at the center of power. The work of the artist is at the very dangerous crux of political, economic, and social consciousness.

Photos by H. Scott Heist

Photos by H. Scott Heist

Whereas, here, in the United States, well, you know what it’s like. It’s about Celebrity, Wealth (or lack of it in my case), Entertainment– Show Business. This is the work, for me, more and more these days: yes, the commitment to make truly beautiful art, as hard as I find that to do, but even more so, to change my culture so we understand how important a commitment to art and creativity is and that it effects everything–whether we are working in the fields of education, government, finance, manufacturing, and of course in our spiritual lives. Beauty matters. Push come to shove, beauty matters.

When I was growing up, I got into a kind of argument with my Dad. He didn’t oppose my trying to be an artist, but was VERY skeptical. Of course, most parents worry how their children will find a way of making money. I get that. Still, I wonder why parents don’t equally worry about their children’s ability to make beauty. Beauty matters.

Photos by H. Scott Heist

The picture just above, from The Whitman Piece–my play about theatre and the importance of beauty—the insanity of it, its eternality, and the dysfunction of we as people trying to work together.  I’m in the center, wearing my father’s shirt. Photos by H. Scott Heist

2 Comments leave one →
  1. January 27, 2016 4:28 pm

    I love this soooo much. Thank you.

  2. Sharon Gerdes permalink
    January 28, 2016 8:37 am

    I agree so strongly with everything you wrote. Beauty is one of the core principles that we hold to at the theatre I work out. I love the stage’s power to show the beauty and the brokenness of our lives and the healing that can come from art.

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