Saturday, September 11, 2010

The Arrival...or The impact of art on the soul.

The video above if from a production of Shaun Tan's The Arrival by a Red Leap Theatre in New Zealand.   When I saw this video of scenes from the play, I sat transfixed.  I've been wanting to devise scenes from The Arrival since reading it.  Now I'm doubly inspired!

I discovered The Arrival by Shaun Tan a couple of years ago while teaching.  It was added to the 7th grade approved list.  Copies were ordered and I introduced it to my first 7th grade classroom in the fall of 2009.  I fell in love with this book.  It's an immigrants journey and describes the joys and sorrows of leaving one's family to seek a better life for them in a strange new place unlike anything he'd experienced.  Although there are many possible directions this post could go--immigration rights, English as a Second Language, the fence being built along our southern border---I choose to focus on the artistic.

This book is a graphic novel.  The only words contained within are the title and certain foreign characters created by Shaun Tan that you, the reader, learn to decipher.  As a novel, The Arrival is beautifully illustrated and although the story contains no words, the stories told within are profound.  From returning from war to fleeing an unnamed genocide, each character Tan introduces to us is one we've met or at least heard about--and maybe even been at one time in our lives.

Tan's artwork captures the essence of why I believe art can impact one's soul.

I was discussing art with one of my classes recently.  I'd asked them to journal about a trip they'd taken and how the adventure had changed them.  I reflected on my own journey to Europe a few years ago and how art became more tangible to me.

I'd always had a fondness in my heart for Michelangelo's Pieta', but until seeing the seething masses of humanity pressing to get closer to the masterwork, I didn't fully understand the impact that art could have.  Although many were angling for a good photo--as I was initially--most were transfixed by the sculpture of the Virgin cradling Christ in her arms.  This was at the heart of their faith.  Art had provided something tangible for them to see and experience with others sharing their faith. 

I saw many such masterpieces while traveling.  Michelangelo remains forever dear to my soul.  How can a man take a block of stone and chisel it into something so radiant?  Even his unfinished pieces, The Prisoners, though lacking the finished smoothness of the Pieta', have a life the makes us weep wanting to help free humanity from its bonds.

In a time when arts budgets are cut in favor of more testable subjects, I think about the impact art has had on my soul and wonder why we spend so much money on a single standardized test that won't matter to an employer in five years.  I know we must measure---there's no getting around it, but to sacrifice art is to sacrifice that which makes us more human.  

My thoughts...Brien

PS---Happily, my school district saw fit to retain not only our award-winning art teacher, but also our brilliant drama teacher when other districts were slashing left and right!  Thank you for recognizing the necessity of art.