“Just like exercise and sleep, engaging with the arts is a necessity for a full and happy life.” Arthur C. Brooks
Last weekend I attended two installation services for new pastors in our Presbytery. Two parts of any installation service includes a Charge to the New Pastor and a Charge to the Congregation, and invariably, there are words about the importance of self-care:
To the new pastor: Take all your vacation and study leave. Remember your family. Remember that you are human.
To the congregation: Ensure your pastor takes all their vacation and study leave. Remember they have families. Remember that they are human.
Arthur C. Brooks wrote a wonderful article for The Atlantic which suggests that experiencing live art is at least as important for self-care as eating well and getting enough exercise. Please read it.
Imagine making the commitment to experience live music or a live play or a live poetry reading or a live painting at least once a month. Once a week would be even better. If you’ve ever listened to a live performance and felt your heart swell, you know what the arts do to our bodies. In the words of Arthur C. Brooks:
Engaging with art after worrying over the minutiae of your routine is like looking at the horizon after you’ve spent too long staring intently at a particular object: Your perception of the outside world expands.
HH and I have been blessed to experience some life-changing art: Aretha Franklin in the DAR Constitution Hall, the Jacob Lawrence Migration Series at MOMA, Maya Angelou reciting “On the Pulse of Morning” at the Clinton Inauguration in 1993. My heart was full in each live experience.
I love the Ramsay painting of Queen Charlotte in the Mint Museum here in Charlotte, NC. It’s huge and you can sit on the bench just in front of it and take in the folds of her coronation gown and the waves of her hair. How can a human being paint like that?
I love studying Queen Charlotte’s face – a face that shows her North African, Portuguese, and German features although there was royal pressure on the artist to make her look “whiter.” Turns out Megan Markle was not the first mixed race princess in the British royal family. The first was in fact Charlotte and she was Queen of Britain and Scotland from 1761 until 1801, after which she was Queen of the United Kingdom until her death in 1818. She looked more like Golda Rosheuvel than Elizabeth II.
Sitting with that painting is an extraordinary experience. It takes me away. My perception of the outside world expands.
Although Lent is several weeks away, I wonder about taking on a regular diet of in-person art during those seven weeks before Easter. I imagine we will breathe better and life will feel different.
What a lift it would be to commit to at one one live art experience each week during Lent. My plan is to start this discipline now. Pre-Lent.
Image of Queen Charlotte by Scottish painter Allan Ramsay (circa 1762) There are several versions of this coronation portrait and another one is in the National Portrait Gallery of Art in London.