Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Art Doesn't Have to Be Great to be Good

Much as I long for it, time off from teaching is dangerous time for me.  I feel restless, listless, useless, all around less.  Two appointments had fallen through; I thought of blogging, but felt I had nothing to say;  I'd already walked my dog twice and Mom's dog Sassy, too; the news was depressing.  So I opened up Dean Koontz's novel The City where I'd left off last night.  I was just thinking to myself, "For an adult supernatural suspense thriller, this is a nice Young Adult novel," when I got sucked in.  Now my heart's pumping, and I'm thinking about a half dozen things at once.

Here's what got to me:

Koontz's narrator remembers touring an art museum at age ten, led by his buddy's cute 17-year-old sister.   He's "chilled to the bone" seeing "The Goldfinch" by Carel Fabritius (Dutch, d. 1654).  He explains:

The finch is restricted to the box by a fine-link chain ... at most two feet in length, allowing it to test its wings and fly only to change its position on the box....  The cruelty of the finch's captivity... tortures your heart....(393 in Kindle)

But more than this, our narrator is disturbed by "something in its posture" that shows "stoic suffering."  Then, our narrator focuses on the bird's eye (see detail; it can be enlarged):

[In the right eye] glimmered a liquid drop of light, a simple bit of mastery that convinced me that this painted bird could indeed see.  Its stare was direct but more than merely direct.  There was a depth to the eye, as if not only the bird looked through that eye at its keeper, but as if all of nature looked and saw and knew the extreme cruelty of this imprisonment. (394)

Eyes are a motif in this novel: a cruel woman's lifeless staring eyes in a nightmare, a derelict toy's fabric eye that seems to follow our hero around, the lens of a spy camera that snapped a photo of the boy while he slept, and the cutout of a model's eyes sent to him as a warning that he's being watched.  The boy has kept these things to himself, and he feels guilty for lies to his loving mother.  Koontz taps into that and more with the next bit about God, not only Creator of Nature, but in nature, too: "[T]hrough that moist and feeling eye, the Maker of the keeper watched... and saw and loved the keeper for his potential, but mourned his cruelty... and it regarded me... saw me and knew the good and bad in me."

This leads at last to an epiphany about himself:  "Like the bird, I was chained, and the links in the chain were my lies, so that I was both bird and keeper, chained and endangered by my own actions."

So I'd just been thinking that this novel was okay, a little didactic, a little too sweet.  The man who wrote these passages is still being a little didactic, a little too sweet, but now I don't care.  Bring it on! I feel energized and involved, and my worries and annoyances have receded.

Art doesn't have to be great to be good. 

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