Have you ever read a piece of writing that is so amazing, that so captures the essence of its subject, it takes your breath away? Or heard a piece of music that is so exquisite it seems to resonate inside you? Or perhaps you’ve looked at a work of art that is so breathtaking you want to hold the image in your mind so that the emotion stays with you forever?
The distinguished German author Johann Wolfgang von Goethe once said that ‘a person should hear a little music, read a little poetry and see a fine picture every day in order that worldly cares may not obliterate the sense of the beautiful which God has implanted in the human soul’.* As a writer, I often find myself inspired by the creativity of other artists.
This week, after several movie-free months, I happened to see two quite different movies I really enjoyed: Philomena, starring Judi Dench and Steve Coogan, and The Railway Man, with Colin Firth and Nicole Kidman. Apart from the great acting performances and the pull of both stories, I also found myself thinking at times, ‘That’s the sort of emotion I want to generate in my writing. How can I do that with words on a page?’ And once again I dips me lid to the screenwriters who can make that happen.
Looking at art can do that for me too. In Brisbane, Queensland, where I live, we’re blessed with an excellent Art Gallery as well as the Gallery of Modern Art. Although I haven’t been to either recently, I feel the gap, as if I’ve been deprived, because I know from past visits how wandering through the exhibitions reinvigorates my soul. I don’t like everything I see, but I don’t mind being provoked, either, because I believe that one of the roles of good art, like good writing, is not to be bland.
Early in December I went to two concerts that also took my breath away. One was a Christmas concert by students from the Queensland Conservatorium of Music, held in St John’s Anglican Cathedral, Brisbane, and the other was a performance of The Messiah, by the Queensland Symphony Orchestra and a chamber choir. I’m not a musician and even my singing in the shower frightens the dog next door, but beautiful music can transport me. By the same token, I also enjoyed a retro performance of the musical Hair recently, and a jazz and blues CD I received for Christmas.
And, of course, I constantly read what other people write, fiction and non-fiction, and I’m moved and challenged, and sometimes disappointed, by the ways that authors use words.
These experiences of other people’s creativity invariably stimulate me to want to write better, both fiction and non-fiction, and in my academic work, too. Occasionally I have a go at writing poetry, but so far nothing I want to expose to public gaze.
So I agree entirely with Goethe about the need to feed our souls with art, poetry and music, and if I have a New Year’s resolution at all, perhaps it is that I must remember to have a good helping of other people’s creativity this year, and continue to strive to put my own words together in ways that will make readers respond in their hearts, minds and souls. I hope I can create ‘the sense of the beautiful’.
Perhaps, in our daily lives, we can all aim to create more of ‘the sense of the beautiful’ in 2014, whatever we do in life. How might you create more of the sense of the beautiful this coming year?
*From Soul Happy, a book of sayings compiled by Kobi Yamada, and one of my welcome Christmas presents in December.