This post was written by Benjamin Jacob, HC Student Fellow, Interdisciplinary Studies major
One of the most poignant moments in the wonderful new film “La La Land” occurs as the aspiring actress Mia (played by Emma Stone) auditions for a part in a movie. She auditions by singing the story of her aunt, an eccentric artist, who jumped into the Seine in the dead of winter, barefoot. Mia sings,
Leapt, without looking
And she tumbled into the Seine!
The water was freezing.
She spent a month sneezing,
But said she would do it, again.
Mia then describes why this occurrence was impactful.
She captured a feeling
Sky with no ceiling
Sunset inside a frame
She lived in her liquor
And died with a flicker
I’ll always remember the flame.
Mia sings a toast to her aunt and others like her, those that have the courage and creativity to dream. For Mia, her aunt’s example gave her the bravery to pursue her career as an actress. And to me, this eccentric aunt was a symbol of how the humanities can inspire us to boldness.
As students of the humanities, we are blessed to be constantly in the company of greatness. We spend our days thinking with profound philosophers, seeing alongside visionary artists, and writing with captivating writers. But to what end? I find it helpful at times to ask myself how I am a different person because of my study of the humanities. What changes come to me because I immerse myself in the thoughts and expressions of others? For me, the presence of these artists in my life has constantly inspired me to be bold.
Recently, I was reminded of the boldness of artists as I walked through the exhibit “A Visual Testimony: Minerva Teichert’s Book of Mormon Paintings” at the BYU Museum of Art. Her paintings are dominated by the boldest of strokes and the most vibrant of colors. As I enjoyed the bright hues of her murals, I felt grateful for her courage in painting something so unique and in such a unique style. I learned from a placard that she was unofficially commissioned to paint “the great Mormon story” by her mentor Robert Henri. With this calling, undoubtedly she would have had moments of fear and uncertainty. How was a mother of five, living in rural Cokeville, Wyoming, expected to portray such a grand and encompassing narrative? And yet she went courageously forth, painting scenes unfamiliar to the wider world in a compassionate and compelling style. She succeeded in her mission and she inspires me to be more courageous, more daring and more confident, as I try to make the world around me more beautiful.
We stand at the cusp of a new year. It is exciting to think about what lies ahead. Where will you go this year? Where will you travel? What will you read? What will you see? What will you learn? As we ponder our future, I would encourage all of us to follow the example of Teichert and to be brave enough to follow our commissions, our callings and our pathways in our own styles and with our own convictions. I hope we can return to our studies and research projects with renewed vigor and enthusiasm, knowing that what we are doing here is incredibly valuable. It is comforting to remember what Eugene Delacroix wrote in his journal in 1824, “What moves men of genius, or rather what inspires their work, is not new ideas, but their obsession with the idea that what has already been said is still not enough.” There is much to be done, written, taught and learned in the coming months. And that is an exciting thought.
So, in this, the first Humanities Center blog post of 2017, I’d tell you to be bold! Jump into the Seine! Be unafraid to dream of what can be yours and ours, collectively, as we go forth to serve. The world may seem a dark and dreary place at times, but as lovers of the humanities, we can lead the way to a brighter future.
As Mia sang in her audition,
So bring on the rebels
The ripples from pebbles
The painters, and poets, and plays.
Here’s to the ones who dream
Foolish, as they may seem
Here’s to the hearts that ache
Here’s to the mess we make.
Damien Chazelle, La La Land, 2016
John Lloyd and John Mitchinson, If Ignorance is bliss, why aren’t there more happy people?, Harmony Books, 2008. Print. p.127.