I am currently reading Victor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning. I am only about 50 pages in, but I was so transfixed by some of the most recent pages that I had to comment on them.
Although I find it difficult to take in too much subject matter about the Holocaust at one time, as it is so hauntingly horrific, I have been keen to read this particular book. Uniquely, Frankl details his experience both from the point of view of an inmate who lived through the concentration camps and from the point of view of an observant doctor, deeply curious about how he and others managed to survive.
Not long after describing a number of inhumane events, Frankl goes on to talk about how these atrocities strengthened the inner life of the prisoners:
“The intensification of inner life helped the prisoner find a refuge from the emptiness, desolation and spiritual poverty of his existence… As the inner life of the prisoner tended to become more intense, he also experienced the beauty of art and nature as never before…”
He went on to describe how emaciated prisoners rushed to see a sunset, or the unexpected beauty from a bird that alighted on the frozen pile of dirt which he had dug.
Frankl went on to say:
“A kind of cabaret was improvised from time to time…those who had fairly good positions in camp… came to have a few laughs or perhaps to cry a little… There were songs, poems, jokes, some with underlying satire regarding the camp. All were meant to help us forget, and they did help. The gatherings were so effective that a few ordinary prisoners went to see the cabaret in spite of their fatigue even though they missed their daily portion of food by going.”
Elsewhere, Frankl had commented on how utterly valuable and eagerly anticipated that portion of food was… and yet some people– who were starving– would give up that precious food for the sake of a performance, of art.
And though my and many people’s deepest desire is to put a stop to humans’ cruelty to each other, I cannot help but be moved by the fact that these terrible conditions stoked a deep sensitivity to the rare instances of beauty… and of art. For this beauty and art gave them back tiny reminders of their humanity, which was otherwise denied them completely.
Although I have never been under conditions anywhere near as extreme, I can absolutely think of pieces of art that have moved me beyond words. Even this past week, I saw a one-man show that left me stunned… my friend and I sat in our seats until everyone else had left the theater. I didn’t want to “break” what I had just seen.
But how often does art truly affect people that deeply? Sadly, I think commercialism often shoves things down people’s throats, convincing them they have to like it, and then we become so overwhelmed with the competing stimuli that we just want to retreat or find refuge.
But even in the chaos of commercialism, art can thrive. It may or may not announce itself, but it’s there. And I would like to hope that our sensitivities have not been dulled to it… that we are still able to be moved beyond words.
I would love to hear anybody else’s comments… what art has deeply affected you?