The arts, communing with the human soul

“For me, art is a way of communicating. It’s like having a good conversation.” ~Beth Winterburn

Feature photo by Beth Winterburn

By Candace Echols

Yesterday, I interviewed one of my oldest and dearest, artist Beth Winterburn, for Style Blueprint. I’ve known her for going on two decades. We’ve spent countless hours talking and listening and crying and laughing (hysterically) through all the phases, but I never thought to ask her what actually inspires her art.

Of all things, its relationships.

Last week, I listened to the song “Speed Trap Town” by Jason Isbell five times in a row. It makes me want to sit down and write every time I hear it. It’s something about that line “It’s a boy’s last dream, and a man’s first loss.” High school football. Genius. So genius it almost makes me cry. Probably has made me cry on a rainy day. 

Beth Winterburn: The artist’s studio (photo Beth Winterburn)

In the carpool line this morning, “Don’t think twice, it’s alright” by Bob Dylan played. That sad harmonica exposes my soul in places lyrics could never go. The way it cries and even wails at times. It gets me. 

Sometimes even words can plumb depths or reach heights I cannot capture with my weekday vocabulary. That’s why writers keep a running list of solid jargon to use on hand at all times. I’m constantly pilfering good talk from my friends and billboards and old books. Without meaning to, you see, sometimes people concoct phrases and ideas that make me feel so very understood.

For instance, my friend Kristy said this weekend while we were on Anna Maria Island, “Oh wow! I love the smell of fresh grease and salt at the beach.” Three things I would never have put together, but as soon as she said it, I knew I loved it too and realized I always had. Isn’t it delightful to have an old love brought to light so you can enjoy it in its fullness!

“We read to know we are not alone,” said C.S. Lewis in Shadowlands.

I wonder if we also put art on our walls so we are continually engaged in internal conversations we can’t quite find words for. And if we curate playlists so all the parts of our soul can be fully represented while we shoot hoops or go on road trips or take a shower. I wonder if the point of carving unique instruments out of wood and metal and horse hair is because the cello could never say the same things a flute can say, and vice versa. 

The human soul is complex. Who can know it? 

The Psalmist—a musician, of course—put words to it in the Bible: 

I used to think the arts were extras — the outside things people majored in when they weren’t willing to do the real work, or when they were trying to get out of Statistics, and who can blame them? But the older I get and the more seasoned my soul becomes, the more I realize that the arts aren’t just extracurricular activities –- they are absolutely essential and necessary. They massage communication between people and even better, they enable us to tell our Creator things He already knows, but still wants to hear, since He loves us. Just like a good parent. 

And so Bob Dylan and Jason Isbell and Beth Winterburn, and all of you other art majors I looked down upon from my high and lofty Journalism and Mass Communication major (really?) . . . I publicly apologize. As it turns out, in the real world you are doing the important work of unmasking the human soul and facilitating vertical and horizontal communion. It’s a spiritual task no matter which way it goes. You artists probably already know how I’m hoping you’ll respond:

Don’t think twice, it’s alright. 

*Psalm 139

StoryBoard features “The Yellow Chair ChronEchols” by writer Candace Echols. Candace recently published her first book, the children’s book Josephine and the QuarantineCandace is a Midtown resident, wife, and mother of five. She has written for StoryBoard’s Page One Writing Workshops, and writes in quiet moments from her yellow chair.

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