Be grateful for the gift of the arts and of the artists

Art is wonderful, but it's certainly not a replacement for religion

A recent film out of Sweden — director Jan Kroell’s Everlasting Moments — provides a potent reminder of the power of art to transform life.

The film is based on the true story of a Maria Larsson, who lived a difficult life during the early part of the 20th century.  At the beginning of her married life, however, Maria wins a camera. It collects dust for many years, until she finds it. With its rediscovery, Maria begins to experiment.

With the help and encouragement of a local photographer, Maria discovers that she has a rare gift: the ability to “see” a moment and to “document” that moment through the camera’s lens.

Remember, of course, that Maria utilized that gift long before the digital age; she did not have the luxury of taking hundreds of shots in the hope that one or two of them might turn out. Each shot was precious; given the poverty in which she and her large family lived, not a one could be wasted.

Jan Kroell — whose wife Agneta Ulfsäter-Troell is a distant cousin to Maria Larsson — has produced that rare work of art, one that depicts the life of someone who was, themselves, an artist. The fact that Maria Larsson’s photographic art emerged from a life-setting that was, in so many ways, utterly brutal makes her art an especially powerful testimony to the transformative power of the arts.

That’s a contention I make with a wee bit of caution, mind you. There is an ongoing tendency, in modernity, for us to make of the arts a substitute religion.

My own experience suggests that project does not always have a happy ending: either for the artist or for those who seek to find meaning in the artist’s world of creativity. While the attempt to find ultimate meaning in the artistic realm is fraught with danger, what cannot be denied is that many are continually reminded of life’s ultimate meaning through the artistic realm. Through music, through the visual arts, through the performing arts, artists in a wide variety of mediums can help us to recall that there is more to our lives than we are generally able to imagine.

For the gift of the arts — and the the artist — I, for one, remain grateful.

 

Foster Freed is a pastor at Knox United Church in Parksville.