The Benevolence of Art in Times of Suffering

Photo by Markus Winkler on

Since individual states in the USA began issuing “Shelter in Place” orders, I noticed something remarkable start to pop up online. Artists emerged and graciously shared their gifts with the world. Their personal motivations aside (and completely unknown to me), I think it’s pretty fantastic that I’m seeing so much more of their talents during this time of isolation and loneliness as the planet hunkers down and waits for the virus to end.

I think the first instance I noticed was in my home state of Arkansas. The Arkansas Symphony Orchestra is performing nightly from their living rooms in a project called “Bedtime with Bach.” These talented musicians play to the Internet, settling the spirits of the citizens in our state as they prepare to close their eyes at night. Some are playing Bach, but many are playing other classical works and even contemporary music. I’ve heard cellists, violinists, and even a harpist. It’s touching and moving and soothing for worried souls.

One of my favorite current writers, Andrew Peterson, is reading Book 1 of his Wingfeather Saga on Facebook. Each night, he sits in front of his fireplace reading a few chapters for about 30 minutes. We have gotten to tune in a few times, and it’s been lovely to have the author of a series read it aloud, for free, giving his character, Podo, the very voice I’ve heard in my head all along.

In my own scrolling, I stumbled onto some great actors performing. I’ve listened to Patrick Stewart, the famed Jean Luc Picard of Star Trek: The Next Generation, read Shakespeare’s sonnets, one each night. He’s performed Shakespeare on stage, and you can see that this is his gift to the world—beautiful words easing weary people and reminding them that beauty still exists.

I discovered videos of Anthony Hopkins playing piano on a quiet stage in front of no one (apparently last summer), and then again at home, playing for his cat while in quarantine. I didn’t know he played piano. Apparently, he paints too! What a gift to share with the rest of us! Seeing celebrities at home, enjoying the arts, makes them more real and accessible, and it reminds us that this situation has touched everyone, everywhere.

I saw Steve Martin playing his banjo, and Paul Simon playing guitar and singing. I have watched videos of the lovely Sarah Clarkson reading poetry and a psalm each day. I watched as John Krasinski of “The Office” shared good news happening around the world with his TV show from home quarantine, Some Good News. I also listened to Yo-Yo Ma playing the cello.

What moves these artists? I suppose they feel as helpless as the rest of us in their own quarantines? They want to do something. Give something. Bring beauty as a gift into the heavy space of quarantine. I believe the unconscious motivation is found in the image of God that remains stamped on our personhood. We’re moved to share our gifts—to brighten someone’s day, to remind ourselves that hope is not lost, to show people that there is still beauty to be found in a world assaulted by disease and death. God does the same thing in His own creation–unique sunrises and sunsets, innumerable species, flowers blooming in spring–all exist because He can’t help but bring beauty; it’s all grace.

I know I felt the compelling call of creating and displaying beauty a few weeks ago. I wanted to give something. It’s the main reason I began writing again. Maybe I can give back some beauty and hope too? I think it’s why my husband started making informative videos about COVID-19 to share on Facebook to make people laugh and learn something while they’re at it. I think it’s why my daughter is writing a script for a short film, and why my son is working on a YouTube channel. I think it’s why my mom posts photographs she’s taken, and why Italians were singing on their balconies.

We’re hard-wired for art, for beauty, for hope. We have to create, to cultivate, to bring change. We won’t settle for depression and darkness or for defeat. We’re humans, made in the image of God, made to worship Him through our gifts. And in turn, offer those gifts to a mourning population to direct their eyes heavenward to the Healer of bodies, spirits, and souls.

Our restlessness is merely a symptom revealing that we aren’t meant to sit around and do nothing. If you’re home, limiting your exposure, as all should do as much as they’re able, what are you going to do with yourself? What beauty can you offer your corner of the world from the comfort of your home? Be inspired. Make a gourmet meal, arrange flowers in a vase, play an instrument, sing a song, read aloud to your kids, and share any of the former things online to inspire others. Bring light, beauty and grace. This is holy work, friends.

Leave a Reply