What's Tony Thinking

Art in a Time of War


I was going to title this “the Healing Power of Art,” but wasn’t sure that “healing” was the right or only word, or the one I wanted. Possibly, “spiritual,” or “transcendent.” Maybe “necessary.”

Art has the power to take us into depths and up to heights that we tend to forget in the midst of the on-going-ness of life, especially when that includes a brutal and completely unjustified war.

We went night before last to Meany Hall on the University of Washington campus to hear classical guitarist, Sharon Isbin (right). She played pieces from Spanish, Cuban, Chinese, Israeli and Paraguayan composers. It was a reminder of the cultural wealth of humanity, of all nations.

With her left hand she fretted the notes she plucked and strummed with her right. I was fascinated watching that left hand. Each of her four fingers had a life of its own. Each capable of reaching, bending, regardless of what the others were doing. (If you have ever tried anything like that you know how hard it is.) At times her hand appeared to be a frenzied spider weaving. At other moments, four dancers separate yet in perfect harmony.

Or the configurations of Isbin’s fingers against the neck of the guitar were a moveable sculpture. Their configurations signing anger and hope, pain and joy. Most of all passion. The passion for life, beauty, decency . . . love.

The human hand. It’s an amazing thing. Stunning when you look at, when you consider what it does, all it does.

Before the concert we walked over to the east part of the University of Washington campus where the cherry trees are in now full bloom. Scores of people were there bedazzled by the quiet, soft beauty of the blossoms in the cloudy twilight. Phone cameras working overtime.

“This,” said Linda, “is how life should be.” I’ve seen pictures of parks in Ukraine filled with people walking, with families. Are those parks even there any longer? They will be rebuilt. They must be.

With the war in Ukraine on our minds, the delicate blossoms and Isbin’s music, made for a healing evening, not by distracting us but by speaking to our hearts. That lovely campus and the music reminded us of humanity’s capacity for greatness, of life’s extraordinary beauty, and of a grace that persists despite human perfidy and sin, including our own.

How is it that the notes of guitar suggest, even take us, to another realm? I don’t know. But they did. And I am so grateful.

Perhaps you have seen this video of a Ukrainian violinist playing in a bomb shelter in Kyiv, then joined electronically by musicians from 94 different countries, all over the world.

So, today is Sunday. I hope that in worship, whether in a church or elsewhere, God finds you.

It is also perhaps a day, a good day, to visit an art museum or gallery, to take in a concert, or to get out doors. Here’s a recent painting of mine, somewhere in the Wallowas. I’m not sure if it is art, but it may get you out of doors in your imagination. If nothing else, contemplate your hands for a time.

A hymn I love (alas, now incorrect, I’m sure) reminds us:

“This is my Father’s world, O let me ne’er forget, That though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the ruler yet.

This is my Father’s world; Why should my heart be sad? The Lord is king; let the heavens ring, God reigns, let the earth be glad.”

Tomorrow is the first day of spring. Bless you my friends.

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