In Which I Argue with William Steig

This perspective from Shrek author William Steig is popping up on some of the Tumblr pages I follow:

Art, including juvenile literature, has the power to make any spot on earth the living center of the universe, and unlike science, which often gives us the illusion of understanding things we really do not understand, it helps us to know life in a way that still keeps before us the mystery of things. It enhances the sense of wonder. And wonder is respect for life.

I would heartily agree with his admiration for the power of art and, yes, children’s literature. But why discredit science by comparison? It might be taken out of context. But if Steig is saying what it sounds like he’s saying, then I must respectfully disagree. Here’s why…

I think that any science, investigated with curiosity, considered with humility, and applied with the kind of responsibility that is ultimately a work of love, will also inspire us with the mystery of things, help us appreciate life, and find in any aspect of creation a testimony of its creator. (See Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek or For the Time Being.)

Unfortunately, most science we hear about is being investigated, considered, and applied in ways that serve ego and greed. The good science goes on quietly in the background, in ways that have a great deal to do with art. And with faith. (See Marilynne Robinson, Absence of Mind.)

But then, I’m a fantasy novelist, so what do I know about the real world?

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About Jeffrey Overstreet

Jeffrey Overstreet departed the Patheos network in order to escape click-bait advertisements that were offending him and his readers. He will re-launch Looking Closer at lookingcloser.org soon. He is the author of The Auralia Thread, a four-volume fantasy series that begins with Auralia's Colors, and a memoir of "dangerous moviegoing" called Through a Screen Darkly. He teaches creative writing and film studies; speaks internationally about art and faith; served as Writer-in-Residence at Covenant College; and is employed by Seattle Pacific University as a project manager, copyeditor, and writer.


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