(Part of a series about creating a new production of “Metamorphoses” by Mary Zimmerman at Georgia Shakespeare, summer, 2013.)
I was given the unexpected gift of a day off today, and not just any day off: an exquisitely beautiful day off.
Today was glorious where I live; the sky was a perfect blue dotted with fluffy white clouds, the air was clear, the temperature was moderate, and the usual summer humidity had been swept away by last night’s storms – the very storms that caused a major power outage at the theater.
Hence, my day off.
Since I wasn’t expecting it, I didn’t immediately know to make the most of it. But by early afternoon I was out in my yard, trimming shrubs, sweeping the walk, checking the vegetable garden. I was reminded of a character from “Metamorphoses”, a wood-nymph named Pomona, “whose skill in the care of plants and trees has never been equaled.” I’m no Pomona, but I love the natural beauty around my home.
The late philosopher Denis Dutton argued that our need for beauty is instinctual, that we respond to beauty in nature and elsewhere because it points to the robust, the healthy, the fertile, or the highly skilled; it points to what we need in order to reproduce and survive as a species.
I recently listened to a TED Radio Hour program on beauty, and was happy to hear Dutton and others arguing that beauty is necessary, that our reaction to beauty is “hard-wired.” I have wondered about this for years; I suffer from a practical streak, so I have trouble spending money on things that are “merely” beautiful. And yet I will sometimes plunk down cold hard cash for a work of art that grabs me, no questions asked. And I will toil and sweat in my yard to make it lovely and inviting. I know I need beauty. I was happy to learn that everyone does, whether we realize it or not.
Which brings me back to “Metamorphoses,” and to the larger subject of beauty in art. I don’t believe that something must be beautiful to be considered a work of art. But I do believe that when we experience beauty in art, we experience a unique and powerful thrill. We know that a person or group of people have created this experience of beauty for us. It’s not something we’ve stumbled upon; it’s been designed for our pleasure, to lift us out of the ordinary.
That work – that creation of an experience of beauty – is what calls me back to the theater time and again. Sure, I was grateful for my day off today. But really? I want to get back to work creating something beautiful.