Tag Archives: Human

The Arts as vehicles for Identity and Truth

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In his statement to his film Mr Turner, Mike Leigh says:

“Back at the turn of the century, when ‘Topsy-Turvy’ was released, I wrote that it was “a film about all of us who suffer and strain to make other people laugh.”

Now I have again turned the camera round on ourselves, we who try to be artists, with all the struggles our calling demands. But making people laugh, hard as it is, is one thing; moving them to experience the profound, the sublime, the spiritual, the epic beauty and the terrifying drama of what it means to be alive on our planet – well, that’s altogether something else, and few of us ever achieve it, much as we may try.

Yet Turner the man was eccentric, anarchic, vulnerable, imperfect, erratic and sometimes uncouth. He could be selfish and disingenuous, mean yet generous, and he was capable of great passion and poetry.

Mr Turner is about the tensions and contrasts between this very mortal man and his timeless work, between his fragility and his strength.”

I enjoy films which are about complex people and I read this after seeing the film. Too often it feels as though society puts people into boxes and has no time to consider those who are outside the box. The business of the arts is to explore characters and the world they lived/live in.

Timothy Spall as Turner

Timothy Spall as Turner

Turner seemed not to engage with the reality of his own responsibilities yet his paintings engage realistically with the world of nature. I look at the paintings and their wildness strikes a chord with me – the emotions I can’t always engage with are almost acknowledged by the art and artist instead – on my behalf.

The same could be said of Beethoven the composer.  The classical pianist James Rhodes says ‘his music is the very definition of “interiority” – music became about feelings, about looking within and expressing things hitherto unsayable…Study Shakespeare and he will show us who we are.  Listen to Beethoven, a man tormented and isolated, who wrote simply to justify his artistic and intellectual existence, and he will show us who we could be.’

Beethoven

Another who was labelled as odd was Alan Turing – the code breaker in World War Two.  At the time, he didn’t behave or talk like ‘the group’ he was working with, but they learnt to respect and work with him – all portrayed brilliantly in the film The Imitation Game. We should be careful of the word ‘odd’ – life is complex, and we sometimes need complex people to illuminate our own lives, whether we see our lives as black and white, or grey.  As Oscar Wilde says ‘the true mystery of the world is the visible, not the invisible.’  And let us remember we are all human – so complexity generally comes with that.

The superb Benedict Cumberbatch as the persecuted Alan Turing

The superb Benedict Cumberbatch as the persecuted Alan Turing

Plays show us to ourselves

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It was brilliant to see the play The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time do so well at the Olivier Awards last month.  The play is based on the book of the same name by Mark Haddon.  It is about a boy with Aspergo’s Syndrome and his journey to try and find out who killed the neighbour’s dog.  The Director of the play Marianne Elliot also described the creation of the play as an ‘experimental journey’.

poster Curious

It reinforces the need to invest in the arts – this play won 7 Olivier Awards and is a sure commercial success.  Its experimental journey in devising was truly worthy and it is a double journey as it takes the audience on one too.  Not only is it bringing money into the city but it is nurturing talent – that talent will grow and go on to develop.  It is what you call a domino effect.  Our creative culture is who we are and if we stop creating (or stop having the money to create) we stop being people because we stop understanding ourselves.

Curious

There is no ‘app’ on your smart phone to tell you how your soul is doing.  There never will be (thankfully) since we have to discover this for ourselves.  The writer Zoe Bennett talks of a distinction between eye sight and heart sight – or between sight and insight.  It takes time, effort and courage to have insight and everyday life rarely offers it.  Plays do offer it.  Actor Sir Ben Kingsley says ‘Without a mask I haven’t got a clue.  Give a man a mask and he will tell you the truth.’

Ben Kingsley

It is hard for people to be honest about themselves and others in real life for fear of judgement (and society does judge) – again the paradox of ‘make believe’ is that the truth about being human can be explored.

Super Human but still Human

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This is the moving element of these Olympics and Paralympics.  Most of us won’t win medals for living life but we can all draw from the sportsmen and women from this Summer.  Sebastian Coe touched on this in his speeches throughout the ceremonies – sport contains everything that is human – winning, losing, fighting pain, living triumph, making sacrifices and learning to love yourself as well as give a great deal to others.

Jessica Ennis on the Victory Parade on 10th September in London

The paradox is that in these athletes – from the UK and across the world, in their being super-human in their efforts and achievements, they are also simply being fully human and doing what is natural: most people crave meaning – London 2012 has provided this and at the same time brought us together in the process.

Heroes by virtue of Being Themselves

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I am of course talking about the Paralympics.  Words don’t really do justice to what took place at the Opening Ceremony, or what has taken place since.  The events and images redefine what it is to be human and any boundaries that were present, if they are still there, are only in peoples’ minds.  We have the chance to challenge preconceptions – we are asked to redefine the term ‘to win’ because these people are already winners – their medal has already been won because they have worked with the element in their body that makes what they want to achieve extremely hard, perhaps near impossible, and turned it into an enabling force of action, not a disabling force of inaction.

British athlete Richard Whitehead winning the 200 metres

The more we see of the Paralympics, the more David Bowie’s song ‘We Could Be Heroes’ becomes the suitable theme tune.  And let us not forget that many athletes have had a battle to win to even get to the UK and take part.  Their battles begin at home where it is a challenge to get funding, to train, to even get enough food – as if life is not hard enough with a disability.  The stand-alone figure of Houssein Omar Hassan from Djibouti, who came last in the 1500 metres after hurting his ankle earlier on in the race.  His motto to keep going represents millions of people who do just that.  He ran alone, clapped and cheered by 80,000 in a stadium in East London, and in him we could see, if we wanted, a world very different to the UK where any other day is not cheered; the will to live comes from the person themselves.

The sight of Hassan waving was a statement – ‘I am here, I am what I am (to echo the song in the Opening Ceremony) – don’t forget me and my country when all the races are won…the race of poverty still needs to be won.’

And I do not resent the back stories of the athletes being highlighted as some people seem to.  Let us not forget that the disablities of many many of these athletes are caused by the cruelty of man, in the name of war:

One of the atheletes from Sierra Leone lacks his left arm because it was hacked off in the civil war; there are a number of former soldiers taking part who were injured in Irag and Afghanistan…the list is sadly not exhaustive.  One of Prof Stephen Hawking’s lines from the Opening Ceremony was

‘the greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance – it is the illusion of knowledge’

and I think this could not be more appropriate as we get to know these athletes through their disabilities.

Prof Stephen Hawking

The Opening Ceremony was fantastic at showcasing the arts as a way of exploring the human person and its limitless possibilities:

Our idea of ‘a dancer’ was redefined – performers, whether sports people or actors, dancers, artists can be anything – there is no framework which we fit into:

David Toole with his amazing dance routine in the Opening Ceremony

It is these super humans who give us the framework for life: there is no framework – the message of the Paralympics is be who you are – make the box fit you…not you fitting into the box.

A Drama group that radiates more than just Theatricality

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Radius welcomes people seeking to explore spiritual, social and ethical issues through drama.  As a forum for discussion it encourages a relationship between theatre and faith within contemporary culture and promotes plays that throw light on the human condition.  Radius offers scripts for performance, an assessment service for new plays, a series of study guides, a magazine and a programme of workshops.  Radius is interested in all art forms, whether or not the form articulates a religious theme; and even if it does that theme may not be explicit.

Radius was founded in 1929 and is a registered charity (charity number 214943).  If you are at all interested, do visit the website http://www.radiusdrama.org.uk for The Religious Drama Society of Great Britain, Radius.

Most meaning in life is implicit…Radius helps search for it.