Our Life in The Arts

Questions, reality, and musings on a life of joy and wonder

Vol.3, No. 3

March 22, 2023


By Rich Holly

Although I don’t use the word very often, I’m a big fan of marvel. That’s right, lower case, not Marvel (although one of my very best friends from childhood is the son of Marvel artist George Tuska), but marvel – our ability to be astonished, or filled with wonder.

Let’s start off by taking a few minutes to listen to this marvelous rendition of a great song about wonder and marvel:

Although the sentiment of that song (and pretty much all songs including the word marvel or marvelous) is falling or being in love with another person, I do believe that’s a similar feeling to when we experience marvel by viewing objects or hearing sounds in nature, great music, or poetry.

I can recall a few of the earliest times in my life when I was filled with marvel from music
events: when I first saw a drummer on a television show and asked my parents if I could get a pair of drumsticks; the first time I attended the Puerto Rican Day Parade in New York City and saw marching Salsa bands; and being speechless for nearly 24 hours after seeing the Mahavishnu Orchestra (second incarnation) in concert.

Experiencing marvel was one of the reasons I left full-time university teaching to become an administrator – I realized that I was gaining great joy and marveling at the work of my students, and I decided that as an administrator I would be in close contact and mentoring situations with even more students, allowing me (perhaps selfishly!) to marvel at the work of even more talented students.

I also recall, back in the 1970s, the popularity of “light bulb” jokes. A popular such joke about musicians was “How many (insert instrument player) does it take to screw in a light bulb? Eight. One to screw in the bulb, and seven to stand around saying ‘I can do it better than that.’”

That’s pretty much the opposite of marvel. Instead of watching the person screwing in the bulb and finding something positive about it, the others go into the situation with a bad attitude. Let’s all promise to not be like that.

How many of you watch home repair/building shows on television? Most or all of you, at one time or another, I suspect. I’ve learned two things from watching those shows: first, that even the pros have challenges, regardless of their years of experience or owning the proper tools, and second, that the pros can make finished products at which I simply have to marvel.

Do you visit museums? I sure hope so. Fine art, design, historic artifacts (and especially the stories surrounding them) all cause me to experience marvel. The architecture of numerous buildings brings on marvel.

And let’s not forget Mother Nature. I sincerely hope you make time each week – heck, each day! – to get outside and marvel at the beauty and sometimes strangeness that is nature. And not only what you’re seeing. Feel the breeze, listen to the birds or bullfrogs, stand quietly and close your eyes to really listen to the sounds. Marvelous, simply marvelous. All of these – and much, much more – can and should be inspirational to you and your artistry. What have you seen and marveled at that you can incorporate into your acting? Which marvelous historic story influences your visual art? What unexplained marvel drives you to complete your next short story or poem or choreography?

I was recently able to see first-hand a sculpture I’ve marveled at since I first saw a photo and learned about it nine years ago. Located in the Omni Hotel in Nashville, TN, this great work by artist Matt McConnell incorporates dozens of world-class cymbals by the Sabian company, and truly warms my heart.

Rich marveling at “Rhythm” by Matt McConnell.

While I find inspiration from a wide variety of sources on a near-daily basis, viewing this work and marveling at it from several angles and distances has renewed an upbeat spirit in me, which I look forward to using to drive my upcoming creative work.

And I’m looking forward to being marveled again next week, when the extraordinary dance company Contra Tiempo returns to NC State University. Such beauty, such talent, such meaning in their work. Truly marvelous.

I hope you will get out and explore and find things to marvel at. Use that newfound inspiration to create, and you’ll find others then marvel at your work. Let’s keep the marvel fire burning.

Rich Holly serves Arts NC State and the NC State University community as the Executive Director for the Arts.

All posts in the “Our Life in the Arts” series are available here.