Thursday, April 18, 2013

What matters


As I was sipping my coffee and nibbling my croissant this morning in the college Commons, I was browsing an issue of Artscope someone had left on the table, a New England magazine of the visual arts. The title of one article caught my eye: "Living In a Material World."

Well, of course. Of course we live in a material world. Clap your hands. Scratch your head. Stamp your foot. Materiality. Stuff. A world made of stuff. Solid. Enduring.

Except matter has a nasty reputation. To be a "materialist" is to miss the essence of life. God fashioned man out of matter -- humans out of humus -- then breathed soul into the mix. And ever since we have had our attention fixed on soul, that ineffable something that is not matter, not stuff. The spritely essence of angels.

Except whenever we go looking for the essence of angels, it has a way of eluding our grasp. Which is the best thing about matter. Its graspability. One can touch it. Taste it. Smell it. See it. Hear it. Slosh around in it. Rub it on our skin. Pet it. Snuggle up against it. It whistles at the door jambs, patters on the roof. Coffee and croissant.

Living in a material world. I love it.

And then as if to confirm the thought that was swirling in my head, I turned a few pages and came across this painting by the artist James Holland, about whom I know nothing, called "Farmhouse Shadows." (Click to enlarge.) It reminds me a bit of my own New England house, from the same era, but it reminds me too what I like about matter. Its malleability. Its habitability. Its go-with-the-flow. The way it transmogrifies with an organic liquidity in the late afternoon sun. The way nuclear fusion at the heart of the Sun strikes a Cupidic arrow across the blue door.

I might be napping by that downstairs window when the shadow passes and feel the cool, sweet brush of materiality against my cheek.