It’s that time of year, the countdown to the holidays. People hustle and bustle, make lists, check them once, twice, thrice. Amazon’s server is on fire with orders flying in from around the world. If you haven’t finished your shopping by now, well – you’re in a bit of pickle, aren’t you?
For quite a few years I’ve eschewed the whole holiday shopping enterprise. My husband and I are at the stage where we don’t need or want much of anything, and if we do, we get it for ourselves. We might treat ourselves to a concert or dinner out, maybe a little trip somewhere. But buying more “stuff” for each other has lost its charm. As one of my elderly friends put it: “If I can’t eat it, read it, or go to it, I don’t want it.”
But in these often troubled times, when materialism and greed run rampant throughout our society, there is one still one gift well worth investing time and money to give.
The Gift of Art.
Sadly, this gift is not valued highly in the modern world. Artists struggle for recognition, for funding, for space to do their work. When budgets need cutting, the arts are the first place to point the knife.
For the past three weekends, I’ve been out performing with my group, Classical Bells. We’ve watched our audiences come in tired and cold, stamping snow from their boots, looking weary and downhearted. If we do our job well, the music helps thaw those icy places in their lives and even provides a few moments of transcendence from the mundane problems of daily living so they go back into the world with a quieter, softer heart.
“Every piece of art, every performance, is a state-of-the soul address,” wrote poet Jane Kenyon. “The love of the absolute beauty of art, the longing for the well-being of the planet and all its creature, the awe we feel in the face of life and death, the delights of the inward eye and inward ear, the understanding and nurture of the soul – these are the gifts of art.”
And it’s not only the recipient but also the maker of art benefits from this gift. This has been a horrible week for me. Our little dog Molly died unexpectedly Monday, just five months after we lost her brother, Magic. I grieve mightily for these precious companions of my home and heart. But the hours I spend playing music are a balm for that ache, directing my focus away from sadness and toward the task of creating something beautiful.
“Artists report on the inner life,” Kenyon continues, and the inner life distinguishes us from centipedes.” The inner life – our imagination, our compassion, our spiritual awareness – these are the places art touches in us. Art allows us to glimpse something larger than ourselves, that “awe in the face of life and death” as Kenyon put it. We ignore our inner life at our peril, Kenyon warns, for when we do, we “become capable of extreme cruelty and destruction.”
The evidence of that abounds in the world right now, doesn’t it? So this holiday, commit yourself to making art and sharing it widely with young and old. If you’re a writer, volunteer at a local library to do a reading or host a workshop. If you paint, set up your easel in a public place and invite questions and comments. If you’re a musician, take your instrument or your voice to a hospital, a nursing home, your neighborhood coffee shop. If you knit, make scarves and socks to pass out to the homeless.
The possibilities for gifting are endless.
And the gift of art is PRICELESS.
About the Author: Becca Rowan
Becca Rowan lives in Northville, Michigan. She is the author of the books Life in General, and Life Goes On, personal and inspirational essays about the ways women navigate the passage into midlife. She is also a musician, and performs as a pianist and as a member of Classical Bells, a professional handbell ensemble. If she’s not writing or playing music you’ll likely find her curled up on the couch reading with a cup of coffee (or glass of wine) close at hand. She loves to connect with readers at her blog, or on Facebook, Twitter, or Goodreads.