The artist and the observer
“All children, except one, grow up.”
When J.M. Barrie wrote these words as the first line of “Peter Pan” , one can not help but see it as utter irony. In creating the magical story of Neverland, Barrie himself was able to fly into the tale and lose himself for a while in his world of make-believe. The sad part of course, is that Barrie, like the rest of us have to accept we are in fact more like the Wendy – having to return – at least from time to time to the real world of the here and now. Oh, but how we all long to be Peter!
Herein lies the yearning which lurks in the heart of every artist: writer, sculptor, painter, composer, singer, actor, comedian – the list could go on.
Lucille Ball, the forerunner of female comedians, in one of her interviews admitted that when her real world of marriage with Desi Arnaz was falling apart, she found comfort on the set of “I Love Lucy”. There she could lose herself in the home of a loving family, to which she could return.
The great actor Richard Burton struggled in the real world, throughout most of his career. Married to the much sought-after Elizabeth Taylor, their burden with alcoholism drove them both to near death. Yet on the magic screen, where they became Mark Anthony and Cleopatra, they cast aside their shadows and rose to magnificence.
Who has not heard of the renowned Andrea Bocelli? Diagnosed with congenital glaucoma at five months old, he became completely blind, following a football accident at age twelve. One cannot help but wonder where he retreats behind those closed eyes, when he pours out his soul. Surely, his voice resounds from another place. Someone said of him: “If God would have a singing voice, he must sound a lot like Andrea Bocelli”.
While there are countless composers, Giuseppe Verdi stands out as Italy’s greatest opera composer. The stories he created or from which he borrowed contain arias to which even the uninitiated can relate. “Nabucco,” “Rigoletto,” “La Traviata,” “Otello,” and his most beloved “Aida,” transported him – and in turn us, to a place where only the muses are permitted to dwell.
Artist are known to admit, they lose all sense of space and time, as they seek to replicate hidden messages on canvas, from some unknown sphere. Even Michelangelo, arguably one of the most celebrated artist of all time, could not help but insert his self-portrait in his monumental Last Judgement in the Sistine Chapel.
And further, that he was able to release his forms from stone, meant his mind had to penetrate a place where others could not fathom. His Pieta and David defy the marvel he sculpted out of marble. Both reflect his own imagination about which critics have commented: that Mary is too young to be caressing a grown-up Jesus, and the David is instead the giant, whom he is supposed to fell. Yet, no one can set eyes upon these religiously-stirred, spectacular statues without a sense of awe beyond explanation.
His work also brings us closer to a tangible sense of why the ancient testaments have such relevance to this day. In fact, the books which have come to be the canon called scripture, relate to a time when telling stories was a way of life. Many echo Plato’s theory of the physical and spiritual realm. Others borrowed early recollections from Mesopotamia and Egypt. When the oral traditions were finally written down, they became valued as sacred texts inspired through divine connection.
How interesting that the Bible ‒ still read today throughout the world – has been set apart as holy writing. While the names of its authors were lost in the mist of time, their work continues to inspire. At Christmas, at Passover, at Easter, the devout transport themselves back to the centuries, when it seemed possible to believe: that the profane could in fact touch for a moment that which was sacred. Or in other words, where those with imagination could extend their minds from the real world to another realm, to which they were roused to visit.
All that to say, times have not changed so very much. Many have been given the gift of creativity: to entertain, to admire, to inspire. How talents become harnessed, is left up to the artist and the observer.
As for me, I fly often to Neverland with Peter –