There have been times in my life when a work of art lifted me out of a deep trench of depression and despair. Once when I was struggling alone in a too expensive New York City apartment after a devastating breakup, I read Crime and Punishment, and when I got to the last chapter, where Raskalnikov has been sent to Siberia and is doing hard labor, digging potatoes in a field, he feels the sun shining on his face and “all the bitterness drains out of him.” It drained out of me, too. Another time I had fallen asleep with the television on during one of those I’m not coming out of my apartment, I’m not leaving my bed periods. I was awakened by some gentle sounds and a film of an M’buti pygmy standing atop an elephant who had been taken down by the village hunting team for food. But before they divided up their catch, they offered a prayer to the gods of the forest and paid respect, tribute to the elephant. Removed its tail and trunk, which gave it its singular identity and gave thanks for this wonderful creature. This was a documentary made in the Ituri rain forest and I watched it over and over. Respect was paid and somehow, my troubled heart was soothed.
There are other times, big and small, but they all add up to why I practice an art and live in a city and struggle with myself in the hostile galloping world that leaves the personal, the handmade, the artistic alongside the road to the future.
I was thinking about this when I was given a tremendous gift of an amazing painting by Frank Holliday. When I look at it, when I remember it’s there on my wall, when I think of a little part of it and wonder how he could make the paint float above the canvas like that, I feel something inside of me get put back together, like a bone knitting.
I think about the process that went into this painting, the steps big and small, how visible and invisible they are. And I think about class and books and music and painting and dances and meals and parks and movies that knit us together. And I’m grateful. And want to remind my students of that soft yellow light that surrounds something made alive, made human through the arts.