In strange disorientating times when fear and social suspicions take root, when we are trapped, grounded and demobilised with no clear idea of where the end will be or what it will lead to, there are many strategies for coping. A friend reminded me that those incarcerated in prisoner face a level of deprivation that puts our restricted life into the shade and we could learn from them. It has also been pointed out to me that these times of unusual privation often produce great creativity. This includes scientific advancement, special illumination and works of strategic significance. This should not surprise us, after all so much of what we know as the New Testament was written from prison and some of the most valued works of Christian literature too. I have just finished reading Franz Jagerstater’s “letters and writings from Prison” and it is full of astonishing light and inspirational hope.
So it is perhaps a time when artists, poets and musicians have a special role to play.
Artists do have many roles. One is to shine a light into falsehood and hypocrisy and challenge evil where it is found. One may be to explore and see things beyond the visible and another may simply be to entertain and charm. One of the roles I look for in in an artist is the challenge to look up. To see beyond our own self-absorbed existence to a greater reality. It is essentially a spiritual issue. Finding artists who fulfil that role in contemporary society is not always easy. I have written in the past of my experience at college degree shows and my dismay at so much of contemporary art. https://crawfordmackenzie.net/a-death-affirming-experience/, But there are two figures, which stand out for me. They are the two Macmillans. Sir James Macmillan the composer and Robert Macmillan the painter.
James Macmillan is well known in Scotland and throughout the world. You get a lovely personal introduction to the man in his interview with Giles Fraser on Confessions https://soundcloud.com/unherd-confessions/confessions-with-sir-james-macmillan. I have yet to truly explore his work. It will take time. He has said that listening to music requires a sacrifice and that is true. But it is one that brings great rewards. The piece that I have focused on, have listened to many times, and never tire of, is his choral work “Miserere” It takes David’s penitential Psalm 51 in Latin and draws us in an astonishing journey through a range of choral languages from classical motifs, plain song to a very distinct Scottish feel in the final section when, as if finally reaching the summit, the piece breaks into the major key. It is when you get to that part, you realise you have tasted something great. It is recorded by Harry Christophers and The Sixteen (Coro: COR16096) but you can also hear it on youtube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=st2E_uhy5Mo,with a car-back firing in the earlier section.
Robert Macmillan is a relatively young artist who survived the art school experience with his faith in his work intact and continues to paint in oils. His doggedness and commitment moved me when I visited him in his studio some years ago. So much of his work reminds me of Rembrandt and Turner in their continual struggling and searching after light. His figures have a wonderful mysterious quality, caught in space and time but looking somewhere else and his landscapes are exphansive and deep, nudging and drawing you in and saying “there is more than this ”. I am privileged to have one of his works in our home. It hangs on a wall at the foot of the stairs and brings me enormous joy every time I see it.
With these two, I can just about cope with house arrest.