Why the ‘Classics’ inspire

A couple of summers ago my wife and I ventured into the National Gallery in London’s Trafalgar Square and had an opportunity to see some of the world’s most famous paintings, including Van Gogh’s “Sunflowers”. We have a print of it at home but to see it in real life was incredible, the real painting is much more vibrant than the print.  More than that, the layers of paint in the real piece made the work seem almost three dimensional.  As I was looking at the painting I realized that there was something about classic art that I not only enjoyed but also inspired me. I wanted to be able to create something that would produce those same kinds of feelings in others.

When I say classic art I’m not just referring to great painting but also music, film, books, sculpture,  in fact almost all of creative expression. These kinds of things have always birthed in me curiosity about what makes something truly classical. I think truly great art inspires me to do great things myself. It’s beautiful and that beauty inspires me to want to produce beauty myself that others might enjoy in the why I do.

Tolkien’s classic, “The Lord of the Rings” is a good illustration of this . My sixth grade teacher, Mrs. Dickerson, read Tolkien’s “The Hobbit” to our class over the period of a month and it is one of my great memories. The detail in his book and the poetry of it enthralled me, and when I became aware of his greater work, “The Lord of the Rings, I wanted to read it for myself,  By the end of that book not only had it become my favorite book, I found it inspired me in ways I still have trouble completely explaining. 

I have found that same inspiration in other great art which has led me to try and understand what it is about those works that produce such an effect on my feelings  and desires. I’ve been listening to Handel’s “Messiah” almost every night for the last several weeks as I go to sleep. No matter how I often I listen to it there is something there that reveals a beauty that inspires me, that shows me a view of something better.  It seems to create a deep sense of satisfaction and joy that is such a fleeting thing and yet also wonderful. That satisfaction, that joy,  I believe is part of the longing to which C.S. Lewis was referring when he wrote that we had a longing for something which this world which it could not fully satisfy. It’s like a curtain is briefly pulled back and then allowed to return. There is something in great art which gives us that brief view which does satisfy for a moment,

I think most of us are privileged in some way to see the curtain pulled back for brief moments ourselves, but not all of us have the ability to communicate that to other people. Those that have that gift help others to be able to see what is behind that curtain for a moment. It is why great Art is so important, and especially that which focuses on the beauty of God, in both creation and truth. This is the inspiration of Great Art.

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