Alan Rhodes

Sharing Beauty

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

A few months ago New York Times columnist David Brooks wrote a piece titled “When Beauty Strikes.” The column itself was a work of beauty as well as a thoughtful meditation on what it means to be fully human. A ballet school had opened across the street from Brooks’ Washington, DC apartment building and through the studio’s windows he could watch the graceful movements of the dancers. This “unexpected beauty,” Brooks commented, exposed the “limitations of the normal, banal streetscape;” moreover, it reminded him that there was a different “worldview which was more common in eras more romantic than our own.”

This worldview holds that beauty is an essential component of living and possibly the purpose of civilization. Through the centuries the timeless beauty found in the arts has delighted, refreshed and spiritually renewed us. “Art,” noted Picasso “washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.” But the beauty that comes to us through the arts has an even greater power than lifting us out of routine or restoring our spirits: it can deepen our humanity and make us greater than our everyday selves. Brooks suggests that a person who has been moved by Michelangelo’s “Pieta” has a “greater capacity for empathy and a wider awareness of the repertoire of emotions.”

Rereading Brooks’ essay recently, I was reminded of a letter written by future president John Adams to his wife Abigail in the spring of 1780. As revolution consumed the colonies, Adams was in France serving as minister from his nation in the making. While in Paris Adams had seen magnificent architecture, beautiful public gardens, and masterpieces of painting and sculpture. In his letter he wanted to share with his wife the beauty he had experienced, but did not feel he had the time to do so. He was preoccupied with other matters. By studying war and politics, Adams told Abigail, he hoped to bring about a nation in which his sons would study commerce and agriculture. But that was to be only a transition to the final stage, when his children’s children would have the means and the time to study painting and poetry and music. For Adams, business and trade were not the final goal of life. The ultimate aim of civilization was the cultivation of the arts and the appreciation of beauty.

We enter the season now when the winds grow cold, the last leaves fall from the trees and the winter rains pour down. It is a season for turning indoors, a perfect season for savoring the arts, for a visit to a museum or a symphony or a choral concert.

At present we are living in mean and tawdry and vulgar times. In such times the restorative and transcendent powers of art are especially important, times in which we might be inclined to agree with George Bernard Shaw when he said, “Without art, the crudeness of reality would make the world unbearable.” An evening in a theater or concert hall can be a curative for sickness in the soul.

Treat yourself to beauty this season. I just glanced through the December issue of Entertainment News NW where I found a wealth of offerings: music, dance, theater, art. And there’s another way to share the beauty. Year’s end is when many of us sit down to write checks to organizations we support. While it is very important to make donations to groups that feed the hungry and work toward peace, justice and equality, hopefully the arts will not be forgotten. There are so many local organizations that need and would appreciate support: the Whatcom Museum, the Whatcom Symphony, Allied Arts, the Bellingham Festival of Music, the Bellingham Chamber Chorale, the Kulshan Chorus, the Jansen Art Center, the Pickford Film Center, the Firehouse Performing Arts Center, the Sylvia Center for the Arts, the Pacific Northwest Opera, the Whatcom Jazz Music Arts Center—the list could fill pages.

When we give to the arts, we help to ensure a world in which the arts will always be there, delighting and nourishing the soul. John Martin, a noted cardiologist at University College London, once stated that the purpose of the arts is to assist people in becoming “true human beings.” The reason he was in the business of healing people physically, Martin said, was so that “patients can fulfill themselves by enjoying art, literature and music.”

Here’s wishing you a holiday season filled with beauty.

Past Columns
A Second Spring

October 3, 2018

Dog Days Deliberations

September 12, 2018

Mr. Cranky’s Files

July 11, 2018

Can We Talk?

June 20, 2018

Midnight Musings

May 16, 2018

April Fools

April 4, 2018

Rollo and Me

March 7, 2018

Egregious linguistic offenses

February 14, 2018

Subdued City Shakespeare

October 25, 2017

Rainbow Reads

3:00pm|Ferndale Library

Cook It and Book It

3:30pm|Lynden Library

All-Paces Run

6:00pm|Fairhaven Runners

War Through the Eyes of Women Book Club

6:00pm|Bellingham Vet Center

Peru Novoandina

6:30pm|Community Food Co-op

Mind-Body-Food Connection

6:30pm|Cordata Community Food Co-op

WAKE Meeting

6:30pm|Nooksack Salmon Enhancement Center

Beginning Square Dance Lessons

7:00pm|Ten Mile Grange

Skagit Folk Dancers

7:00pm|Bayview Civic Hall

Books on Tap

7:00pm|North Fork Brewery

Fancy Bingo

7:30pm|Boundary Bay Brewery

Comedy Open Mic


Village Books
Bellingham at Home Informational Meeting

1:00pm|Bellingham Senior Activity Center

Endangered Species Curator's Tour

1:30pm|Whatcom Museum's Lightcatcher Building

Sedro-Woolley Farmers Market

3:00pm|Hammer Heritage Square

Prosecutors race is a referendum on reform


Creekside Open Mic

6:30pm|South Whatcom Library

Where the sidewalk ends


Walking to the End of the World

7:00pm|Village Books

Brian Dean Trio

7:00pm|Sylvia Center for the Arts

Climate Change and Forests

7:00pm|Sustainable Living Center

Modified documentary and Panel Discussion

7:30pm|Pickford Film Center

Trove Web Siro
Parkinson's Dance Class

10:00am|Ballet Bellingham

Fall Craft & Antique Show

10:00am|Northwest Washington Fairgrounds

Komo Kulshan Ski Swap

4:00pm|Bloedel Donovan

Jazz Jam

5:30pm|Illuminati Brewing

Camber Exhcange

5:30pm|1820 Scout Place

Falling Out of the Box Jewelry Challenge

6:00pm|Jansen Art Center

Squash Celebration

6:30pm|Community Food Co-op

Chuckanut Radio Hour

6:30pm|Whatcom Community College

Balkan Folk Dancers

7:00pm|Fairhaven Library

Nooksack River Travelogue

7:00pm|Whatcom Museum's Old City Hall

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

7:30pm|Upfront Theatre

How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying

7:30pm|Anacortes Community Theatre

The Duck Variations

7:30pm|Sylvia Center for the Arts

The Skriker

7:30pm|Sylvia Center for the Arts

Side Show

7:30pm|Lincoln Theatre

see our complete calendar »

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