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Art and Culture

Likely Stories: Art as a Way of Life

Jim McKeown

  Roderick MacIver, in a beautifully illustrated books, outlines the joys and benefits of art in all genres.


I’m Jim McKeown, welcome to Likely Stories, a weekly review of fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and biographies.

Roderick MacIver begins this splendid excursion into the world of art with this introduction: “The ancient roots of the word ‘art’ have to do with connection, and art, at its best, is our connection to the mystery, to the parts of ourselves that are deeper and truer than the day-to-day world.  Art connects us to our dreams, to the things that can’t be explained with words, to the things that have touched our core, to imaginary worlds, and even to our personal chaos.  Art has something to do with the part that doesn’t want to be tamed, that can’t be tamed” (3).

When teaching my literature classes, I always emphasize to students the importance of connections – between writer and reader, between reader and characters, events, emotions, memories, hopes, and dreams.  I tell them that through connections, they can discover the truth of fiction and many truths about the world and themselves.

For many years, I admired French Impressionism.  While a museum might occasionally have a painting or two, my visions of these great works came from art books.  However, I was not satisfied.  Trips to the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia satisfied my appetite for Renoir and his bathing beauties, but my number one target was the “haystack series” of paintings by Monet.  On a trip to The Art Institute of Chicago, I headed straight for the 19th century rooms.  What I saw that day struck me in ways I rarely experience.  I walked into a room and saw six of the series of 25 haystack paintings.  I was so overcome with their beauty, I burst into tears. 

MacIver’s slender, beautifully illustrated volume explains the power of art “regardless of whether or not it bears a close resemblance to a particular physical form.  Its power comes from a place deep in its creator and it registers somewhere deep in the viewer” (3).  The stated purpose of the book, MacIver says, “is about an overall approach to life, a life that grows out of a close connection with a sacred center, with our inner world” (3).  He says art “has something to do with slowing down, with quiet) (3). 

All the same principles apply to literature.  We must slow down, concentrate on the characters, the scenery, the dialogue, the thoughts and dreams, joys and fears of those who inhabit the pages of a novel, short story, or the stanzas of a poem.  MacIver writes, “The journey toward our beauty is a magnificent struggle.  Achieving integrity between what we believe and how we live is a challenge worthy of the gift of life” (10). 

Among the beautiful illustrations, MacIver has sprinkled quotes.  One of my favorites is by Albert Camus, “A person’s life purpose is nothing more than to rediscover, through the detours of art, or love, or passionate work, those one or two images in the presence of which his heart first opened” (10).

So go ahead, let it all out.  Let the tears flow, let the anger rise, let the hairs on the back of your neck spring to attention, and feel what real effects art can have on you.  Roderick MacIver’s Art as a Way of Life will become a treasure in your home to share with your family and friends.  5 stars.

Likely Stories is a production of KWBU.  I’m Jim McKeown.  Join me again next time for Likely Stories, and HAPPY READING!