Diane Stranz on American Life

Tapestries of Art will Change the World

Soundtrack for this Blog Post:  Ambrosian Junior Choir singing Suo Gan from the movie Empire of the Sun; Yo-Yo Ma playing Gabriel’s Oboe from The Mission; Jay Ungar’s Ashokan Farewell from Ken Burn’s documentary The Civil War

Why each of my blog posts from now on will recommend a ‘soundtrack’ to be played while reading the post, and, possibly, even quote a poem and/or painting and/or work of classic literature you should reflect upon as well:  Dorothy Day said that ‘Beauty will save the world,’ all true art contains beauty in abundance, and I believe in the transformative power of both beauty and art.  The purest form of beauty, in my opinion, is God’s natural Creation unadulterated by man (i.e. the beauty of nature, in all its wildness) — but art is God’s spirit expressing itself through man, so art is also a vehicle for beauty.

I especially believe in the transformative power of TAPESTRIES of art.  What is a Tapestry of Art?  It’s an interwoven blend of more than one art form in which the experience of the whole becomes exponentially greater than the sum of its parts (i.e., experiencing multiple, interrelated art forms at once can open dimensions inside you FAR beyond what experiencing one artform alone does) (being who God created you to be is all about nourishing, expanding and expressing your inner life — so, no, memorizing Bible quotes is NOT where it’s at).

This is why people are so affected by movie soundtracks:  because if you experience a song which just FITS with the scene you are watching, you are experiencing two powerful art forms at one time:  music and film.  This is why I also cannot complete a screenplay without also recommending a specific soundtrack to go along with it: the music which goes along with the story is not some random, unimportant part of the film that is best left to the discretion of someone else.  I am the artist crafting the art form which is my film script, and crafting the soundtrack is as much a part of my art as the story itself.  (At least this is how I feel.)

The Art Tapestry Project

Along these lines, I eventually plan to create, using artists who live and work  in my own community, The Art Tapestry Project:  a poet writes a poem, then a musician writes music inspired by the poem and records it — then a painter creates a painting inspired by BOTH the poem and the music.   The resulting collaborations (13 to 20 in number) would be published in a spiral bound booklet with a CD for the music.  When lying flat and open, the poem would appear on the left, a color reprint of the painting on the right, and the recipient of the Art Tapestry experience would listen to the relevant CD track while reading the poem and reflecting on the painting.  AMAZING EXPERIENCES would follow, I am positive.   (I contribute this idea freely to the public domain: feel free to rip it off and do it in your own community.  Go art!)

My first experiment in this direction was having Dallas painter Larry Harran paint while listening to a recording of Bach’s St. John’s Passion, then we exhibited the final product at a performance of St. John’s Passion by the Dallas Bach Society (this was in 1997).  It was totally awesome, and led to the inspiration for the Art Tapestry Project described above.  But soon thereafter is when God led me into being REALLY REALLY poor — to the point where my second husband Jeff and I were actually homeless for a short period of time — so all of those cool ideas had to be shelved . . . UNTIL NOW!  WHOOPEE!    (If I can figure out how to digitize pictures of Larry’s art, I will eventually try to add them to this post.)

That’s all I have to say for today, but I will definitely write more on this topic in the future since it is so important and foundational for positive world change.  It is not really political activists who will change the world, but ARTISTS and LOVERS and — especially — the LOVERS OF ARTISTS!!  (smile)  I have been an activist at times in my past, and plan to be again in the future:  so I’m not condemning activism.  But to place activism above truth and beauty is like trying to get the tail to wag the dog.  (And by all means go watch Barry Levinson’s 1998 movie by that name — Wag the Dog — starring Dustin Hoffman and Robert De Niro.  ESPECIALLY if you want fuel for political activism!)

Harry Potter is not a Role Model
February 22, 2009, 6:47 pm
Filed under: Children and Parenting, Literature | Tags: , , , , ,
Parents are the persons primarily responsible for molding their children into moral human beings of character.  Just as a parent should be concerned about a child’s nutritional intake, a parent should also be concerned about a child’s reading diet.  J. K. Rowlings’ Harry Potter books constitute a very poor reading diet.
I have done research on J. K. Rowling and Harry Potter Mania for years, including that I have read parts of the Harry Potter series for myself.  I am primarily turned off by the fact that Harry and his friends are all very small of character, immature, grudge-filled and essentially mean-spirited.  Fantasy writer Ursula Le Guin, who I respect, holds the same opinion:
When so many adult critics were carrying on about the “incredible originality” of the first Harry Potter book, I read it to find out what the fuss was about, and remained somewhat puzzled; it seemed a lively kid’s fantasy crossed with a “school novel”, good fare for its age group, but stylistically ordinary, imaginatively derivative, and ethically rather mean-spirited.
I am also convinced that Rowling’s ADD type of story-telling actually destroys a child’s interest in classic children’s literature.  There is a young student librarian at our local branch library who told me one day last summer (while I was perusing the shelf of children’s literature awarded the Newbery medal for excellence) that Newbery books are ‘entirely too boring’ for ‘the modern generation’ of readers, and that ever since she read the Harry Potter books she has no interest in any books which do not demonstrate a similar ‘fantasy/action adventure’ pace and story line (hence the rise of more obnoxiously poor books like the Lemony Snicket series, etc. etc.)
As literary critic Philip Hensher wrote in The Spectator in 2003:  “Rowling is not a subtle writer, and one of the tiresome things about her books is how routinely they resort to turning up the volume, rather than describing anything vividly.”  Yes, I agree.  Constant action, violence and emphasis on ‘good versus evil’ does not advance civilization in a peaceful, cooperative, loving, gentle direction — whereas numbers of good children’s books do:  Doris Gates’ Blue Willow, Lois Lenski‘s The Giver, Kate DiCamillo‘s The Tale of Despereaux, Paul Zindel‘s The Pigman, Scott O’Dell‘s Island of the Blue Dolphins, Laura Ingalls Wilder‘s Little House on the Prairie series, E. L. Konigsburg‘s The View from Saturday, Jean Craighead George‘s Julie of the Wolves, Ann Nolan Clark’s Secret of the Andes, Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH.  To name only a very few, of course.
Why waste our children’s time reading trash when there is so much good literature waiting to be discovered?  Horse trainers know that once you train a horse to ride Western saddle (which has far fewer demands and expectations of the horse than English saddle) you can never again get the horse to agree to/cooperate with being ridden English saddle.  I believe that once a child is permitted to indulge in a ‘reading diet’ of Harry Potter type fantasy, you cannot again get him or her back into a ‘meatier diet’ of genuine literature.  I may be wrong, but with my own children I prefer to err on the side of caution and feed only the meatier diet.
To date my 7-year-old son Jeffrey and I have worked our way through only a few chapter books — including Elizabeth George Speare’s The Sign of the Beaver, which Jeffrey loved — and my point to him is that we are not going to waste time on Harry Potter books when there are SO MANY MUCH BETTER BOOKS we still have not yet read!  Books which teach children how to evaluate and respond to moral crises in real life.  Reading should entertain and teach, but it should also help mold character and values.  And it is a parent’s job to care about that.