Inspiration from Michelangelo

July 20, 2009

Last night I watched an old movie, The Agony and the Ecstasy about Michelangelo and the painting of the Sistine Chapel.  There were a lot of lines there that really resonated with me, especially as it relates to my current book project – which frequently makes me feel overwhelmed and at times, immobilized. Also a lot of great lines just about art and creating, in general. Even though it is an old movie, it was pretty good, and it was one of those grand ol’ Technicolor classics, so it was pretty to look at, too. Here’s a few of the parts that meant something to me.

Michelangelo sketches a man in a bar – then “makes him a saint” just by adding a halo.

Michelangelo repeatedly says he is not a painter, but a sculptor. Sometimes the fear of painting the work before him, paralyzes him. When he gets a burst of determination, he declares: “Painting is not my trade, but I will make it my trade.”

Pope: “When will you make it end?”
Michelangelo: “When I’m finished.”
(This becomes a running line, throughout the film.) – And this is exactly the dilemma I am feeling right now with my book. “When will it end?” “When I get all the information in there that I need to.”

Exhausted and sick, Michelangelo declares: “Even if I had the strength to go on, I don’t have the will.” That’s a crisis of faith, of sorts, and something I can totally relate to.  I’m beginning to wonder if I have the will to see my own project to completion.

“You’ll always be an artist. You have no choice.”

“Don’t you want to finish?” “More than my life.”

The Pope in the film turns out to be a man of little faith. He is surprised at Michelangelo’s portrait of God, that God is not angry or wrathful. Michelangelo explains -“Not yet. Not at Creation.” The Pope says only a man of faith could create such a work of art. It is through his art that Michelangelo expresses his faith, and makes it more solid.

Both the Pope and Michelangelo egg each other on – virtually tormenting each other. By badgering each other, they encourage each other to fulfill their life’s mission and work. At one point when Michelangelo is ill, the Pope observes: “An artist is destroyed when he is kept from his work.” The Pope understands the cure for Michelangelo’s illness is to return to his art.

Even after Michaelangelo has been working on the chapel, probably for years – he still says he is not a painter, but a sculptor. When the Pope asks him to do more work, in addition to the ceiling – Michaelangelo rebels (but does it anyway), still complaining that he is not a painter. It was really interesting to see how this weighed on Michaelangelo, and to see how despite his distress over having to paint – and to paint something on such a grand and magnificent scale – he still managed to excel at his work, despite its burden and his own nagging self-doubts.

© writingreading, 2009

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We Can Make Beautiful Music Together!

December 5, 2008

Just saw an incredible video on PBS. It is about Mark Johnson, who has made a film called “Playing for Change.” He filmed musicians all over the world, playing the same song, then edited them all together so it is an ensemble performance.

It is moving, and amazing. Johnson’s premise is that music unites all of us, and even though we may be from different cultures, nations, races, religions, music can transcend all of the other things that may try to divide us.

It is a powerful concept, and a powerful video. Inspiring and moving.

Johnson’s even started music schools in places throughout the world to make his vision real, and to help people who live in desperate circumstances find solace and hope through music.

There’s really no need for me to say anything further – except to encourage you to check out the links above, and see and hear it for yourself!

I just found out that Johnson is also guest blogging at Bill Moyers’ Journal – so you can follow up on this story, there.

© writingreading, 2008


Small things make a big difference

July 13, 2008

It’s been a few months since I saw this film, but I find it to be “haunting” in the sense that it still occasionally pops up on my mental landscape. It is called Midnight Clear and stars one of the Baldwin brothers. It’s kind of one of those “sleeper” films, I think, not sure if it was ever released to theatres – maybe more kind of film festival fare.

It basically follows several characters through a short period of time – maybe even just one or two days, and is one of those kind of movies where through plot turns and twists, all of the characters end up becoming interrelated in some manner. What I found most meaningful, and yes, “haunting” about the film was its overall concept or philosophy of “sometimes the smallest things can make the biggest difference.” All of the things that take place in the plot seem quite believable, and even are properly confusing at times for the viewer – but make sense in the character’s world. The characters are pretty much ordinary everyday people, and all have their own flaws, weaknesses and hangups.

Definitely the thing that stuck with me most about this film, is the way small acts and decisions can have a large impact – and that sometimes we remain completely unaware of that impact, even as it happens, and even as time goes on. The kindness to help a stranger, answering a knock on the door, turning left instead of right, these are all the small things that can (in the movie, and I think sometimes in life) have big effects.

The film, especially on their website, may have Christian implications or undertones, but I did not find the film to be overtly evangelistic, preachy, or even to have much of an obnoxiously Christian message. I view the lack of all of these to be positives, and as a result, I was not put-off from either picking the film up in the first place, or losing interest or being offended during the viewing of it. About the only real “Christian” element is simply that the story takes place at Christmas time.

I really liked this film, because it is thoughtful, well-written, the characters are fully developed, they are “ordinary” people, and the plot, although twisty, makes sense in the end. I especially liked the “meaning” and philosophy of the film, that small things make a big difference. It is a film not just with a heart, but with a mind. I like that!

© writingreading 2008