Wednesday, February 17, 2016

jubiracy filho | art matters

Monday was truly a memorable day at Regent College. In addition to the student presentation on The Last Days Of Judas Iscariot that I've already posted, here is a second paper that was given for The Christian Imagination class, as heartfelt and deeply moving as the first.  Jubiracy Filho is from Brazil.

Ten years ago, in Eastern Canada, Ontario. If I were to welcome that time as it arrived, I’d quote Job as I opened the door to it: “what I feared has come upon me; what I dreaded has happened to me”.

I was living in Toronto with my younger brother Thyago. Those were my early twenties, we were both international undergrads then. And I vividly remember, before leaving our hometown, to have shared my fear with him: that after spending most of the family’s savings, after investing precious time, and precious energy, not without leaving precious opportunities behind just to embrace this extravagant international venture, that it would prove to be, as we were about to complete it, no longer viable; that, against our will, it would ultimately need to be left unfinished. Unresolved.

And it so happened. In our second year, our parents went drastically unable to support, or help us. We had no access whatsoever to student loans; and tuitions for international students were three times higher than standard. Therefore, regardless of our efforts to work – night shifts in 24-hour coffee shops, manual labor in factories and farms, waitering on tables, cleaning toilets, dog-walkings! – we just could not afford to live and study anymore. After much reluctance, and much to my shame and sadness, and the family’s, we decided to simply go back home without our degrees.

So now I was shortly leaving the city, and it dawned on me that I had not enjoyed it! Well, when even the smell of cinnamon buns meant unaffordable luxury, there is only little much you can do to savor the city, really. But suddenly it came to me: a museum! Let’s visit a museum!

So we did. The Art Gallery of Ontario. I was now stepping into the Canadian Impressionism collection, yes, distracted. That’s when, for the very first time, I saw it. Ah, I love impressionism… I love that impressionist painters resolved to paint outdoors, en plein air, in order to recapture true effects of light, to recover colors as they were by nature! Could apples be merely yellow, or the sky whiter than just blue, or rivers, sincerely gray; brown even? Please allow me. I also love it that they used short, seemingly hesitant brush strokes, as if only their delicacy could prevent beauty from crumbling; or only their shyness, along with their togetherness, could present real beauty. In fact, whether they were barns, bridges, golden haystacks or dark rivers, I love to think these were, not one of them, the actual object in their paintings – but only light, and color itself. And if they would paint the same thing in different times of the day, in order to grasp light moving from the East to the West, weren’t they also painting… time? The fleeting shadows of it? Now, I was still contemplating it.

The rather famous, nationally celebrated, perhaps much studied, painting of Tom Thomson. I learnt that it was even printed on Canadian stamps once; and that Thomson, if not others, was not only interested in the wonders of light, but also of other phenomena, like the wind. And when you learn this painting was named “The West Wind”, you immediately respond to its invitation: “look again”. Then you see the waters of the river, being curled by it, and the clouds in the sky, being dragged by it, and the branches of the trees, as though resisting it, and the rocks and the mountains, that will simply not move to it, and you realize Thomson was not merely painting landscape. He was painting the wind. And it did move me.

At the museum shop, I took a very precious twenty-dollar bill, and used half of it to purchase the smallest possible copy of “The West Wind”. Little did I know that this was also Thomson’s last painting; that he died mysteriously, unexpectedly, in the prime of his life and career, leaving it too, unfinished, unresolved. Maybe that explains why I was leaving Canada empty of a degree, but with that copy in my bag, not completely empty.

As I was leaving the museum, I saw an interesting thing by the doors. A large tube, filled to the top with lemon-green buttons, each one containing the slogan: “art matters”. Now that pierced me: does it really? I grabbed one of them and pined it to my backpack. Does art matter? I’ve worn that button quite proudly around Toronto those days, which seems to answer the question a little.

But if art really matters, why would a museum need to affirm it? After all, aren’t the important things evidently important, in a way affirmations as such would only sound needy – which could even make people question the thing’s real importance, as it so desperately needs affirmation?

Or, maybe the question is: is everything that matters so easily and promptly valued as such? After all, aren’t we creatures that need to be constantly reminded of what really matters? For why would I decide to visit a city’s museum, in order to capture the city’s life? And why would I do so only after realizing that that very life was soon to end?

I took the copy home, hung it on the walls of every apartment I lived afterwards, and grieved over my failure for some years. What I dreaded happened indeed; what I feared did arrive… Yet, much to my amazement, so did the joy I was not expecting, and the happiness I had never, ever anticipated.

Ten years in the future, here I am, living in Vancouver, as a Regent College student; not only contemplating “The West Wind”, but actually feeling it on my face, everyday, as if to be reminded of something. That loss and failure, however long and harsh might be their strokes, that they too can mark only but fleeting shadows in time. That even unaccomplished, unresolved and unfinished stories like mine, and maybe yours, unworthy of Light and Color and Wind, that even they can be illuminated, and recovered, and moved altogether, at once, by the three of them combined. Now that matters.