Teach us, artists, how to be bored again

In his Image essay, “In Praise of Boredom”, philosopher James K. A. Smith writes eloquently about how the “boredom” of art can bore through our distractible attention in late modernity and re-enchant us again:

Every work of art that is true or beautiful is, one might say, a pièce de résistance, telling the truth about how the world really is and offering us a portal to what we’re called to be. Such art resists lies, apathy, and all the forces that would diminish us to mere consumers or enemies or copulating pieces of meat. Such imaginative works are at once disconcerting and enticing. They remind us that we’re not as good as we think we are, and they call us to so much more than this. As in Terrence Malick’s Thin Red Line, a dappled light finds its way through the cathedral of palms while war rages below, making us look up and wonder. And hope.

But how to overcome distraction? How to break through the bedazzling glare of our screens, the latest threat to parade as an angel of light?

The problem isn’t simply that the technologies of distraction prevent us from making or appreciating art. This isn’t simply a competition for attention. The concern is more egregious: our distraction demeans us.

* * *

In a world of incessant distraction, the way out might look like learning how to be bored. A little ennui could go a long way; it could be the wardrobe we need now. We need to learn how to be bored in order to wean ourselves off distraction and open ourselves to others and the Other—to make ourselves available for irruptions of grace.

* * *

We need artists with the courage to teach us how to be bored. Who tease us with anticipation even when we’re befuddled by the poem. Whose prose demands an attention that we want to give because of promises laden therein. Whose sculpture arrests us and frustrates us and jackhammers into our soul and unsettles us with recognition. The creators who teach us to be bored will be cultivating in us habits of stilled attention in which we might finally hear our creator.

* * *

Teach us, artists, how to be bored again. Invite us into the boredom that is the antechamber to the mesmerizing. Tease us with some unexpectation. Bore us so that God can bore into our souls and we can find ourselves again.


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