I was speaking with a good friend of mine earlier today and she told me about why her recent ex-boyfriend broke up with her (let’s call her Jane and him Richard). Jane is in her last year as an undergraduate in theatre. Richard couldn’t come to terms with an appreciation for theatre and the arts. According to him these things are only useful if used for explicit ministerial purposes. This led to Richard breaking up with Jane. This is such a sad state of affairs. What makes this a curious situation is that I’m fairly confident this ideology is rampant in men. I often hear that if a man is in theatre, the ballet, or the arts he must be gay or feminine. I’m going to argue on the contrary. It seems that being masculine or manly has become equivocated with being macho or a rough and tough man who likes football and hockey. There’s nothing wrong with football and hockey, surely real men can like these too, but there’s more to being a masculine man than just that. Men who have an appreciation for theatre, ballet, opera, gymnastics, poetry, and the arts are men who encompass so much more about life.
Let’s primarily consider just a few of these examples. Ballet is such a beautiful feat. This is one of the most beautiful expressions of the beauty and ability of the human body. Imagine an adagio, slow graceful movements to slow music, while the woman is performing several movements and entrechats and she comes to rest in battement tendu (sliding her straightened out leg beside her). While she comes to her last position imagine the man gracefully approaching her for their final coda. He forms his body to hers for a perfect coupling. The grace, discipline, strength, and the form of dance is a spectacular demonstration of the body. It’s a presentation of how the beauty of the body can be expressed–the intimacy of the coupling of body to body.
Theatre is a mastery of genius. Think of Shakespeare and MacBeth, Romeo and Juliet, and Hamlet. Shakespeare’s prose and language are nothing short of genius. He mastered the English language and was able to use this ability to express it in sensual, pleasurable, and lovely forms–particularly in Romeo and Juliet. This work depicts a form of Alcibiadian love. In Plato’s Symposium there are many friends discussing what love is. Towards the end an Athenian celebrity named Alcibiades comes in having had wine. Alcibiades proceeds to tell Socrates about his undying love for him. He chases down Socrates’ love envying his reciprocation. It’s the never-ending pursuit of the person. (This of course can be expressed in non-homosexual ways). Romeo and Juliet depict this very type of love. Recall Hamlet’s struggles throughout the play. Hamlet faces one of the most serious existential questions–should he kill himself? In his soliloquy (which is actually debated if it was ever intended to be one), he discusses the absurdity of life. “To be or not to be.” We’ve all heard that. It could be translated as, “To exist or not to exist.” “To die, to sleep–to sleep–perchance to dream, ay’ there’s the rub, For in that sleep of death what dreams may come.” This is so pervasive to our psyche. Do you recall the Robin Williams movie “What Dreams May Come?” In this film Williams’ children and wife are killed. Then, he is killed in an accident and goes to heaven. He learns his wife is in hell and would rather himself be in hell and she be in heaven. It’s a cosmic suicide. It’s the dreams in death and what they may become–suicide. The mastery of genius, questions of existence, and literary beauty coming to life. To be able to take beautiful dramas, comedies, and tragedies, which were once in the mind of a genius, to be penned and then to be lived is an amazing expression of human imagination and expressions of life’s tensions and joys.
So often we all look at something called “art” and wonder what in the world it’s doing and why it’s called art. Consider Vincent van Goh’s painting, Starry Night. Notice the rolling clouds. The rolling feature in the sky capture your attention and brings your focus from star to star. After sliding your eyes across the night sky following the rolls the night sky impresses itself onto the rolling hills of the town, which itself is rolling. At the center of the town is the church. The church is unadulterated by these rolls–why?
Look at the painting “The Great Wave.” Notice the structure of the wave. The tips of the wave are themselves wave. This gives the impression of some kind of monism. What I mean by that is there is an element that is the most fundamental concept of reality that portrays itself in this fashion. In this painting, a wave is a wave of smaller waves. This is strikingly similar to reality–isn’t it? This painting has been a fascinating expression of fractal geometry–that is, everything is composed of the same thing just in mass quantities of that thing.
So why hasn’t poetry, theatre, ballet, and the arts been accepted into being recognized as being many and masculine? One could only speculate. The tremendous discipline and, sometimes, physical feats that are performed are just as demanding and rigorous as football and hockey–if not more. From a Christian perspective the aesthetics (theatre, art, poetry, ballet, etc.) are reflections of God’s beauty. There is a sense of objective beauty in the world. Poetry may very well be the closest way to express the beauty of language, mind, and genius. Theatre may be the most fun and sobering way to allow imagination become real. Ballet is one of the most stunning depictions of the ability and beauty of the human body. It’s not necessarily the people who depict this–it’s what they do with their bodies that point beyond themselves to so much more. A masculine man must not necessarily participate in all these disciplines but he ought to appreciate what they represent, depict, and point to. Why should this be excluded from masculinity? Shouldn’t a man encompass and appreciate the most important questions of existential reflection, of imagination, and of beauty?– I believe the answer is: absolutely.