by Edward M. Gómez

Die-hard fans of Charles M. Schulz’s “Peanuts” comics will recall a four-panel strip from many years ago in which, in the first panel, the thumb-sucking, blanket-toting Linus Van Pelt, citing an old proverb that has been variously attributed to an unknown, ancient Chinese sage, to Eleanor Roosevelt, and to a sermon delivered in 1907 by the English preacher William Lonsdale Watkinson, advises his older sister Lucy that it is better to light a single candle than to curse the darkness.

In the strip’s second and third panels, Lucy is seen contemplating her precocious little brother’s biblical-sounding wisdom.

Then, in its fourth and final panel, Lucy steps outside into the Van Pelt family’s back yard in the dead of night, looks up into the heavens and screams (Schulz’s big, neatly drawn capital letters emphatically fill her speech bubble), “You stupid darkness!”

Bill Westmoreland, “Winter Light, Northeastern Pennsylvania,” 2023, color photograph. Courtesy of the artist

Our relationship with the dark and with things that go bump in the night is a bit less confrontational. Still, as late-autumn days become shorter, the cool, crisp air turns downright cold, and the crunching sound of fallen leaves underfoot serves as a reminder that winter is approaching, and that the planet’s northern regions will soon slip into a seasonal slumber, we’re not too thrilled about all the darkness the next few months have in store.

Edward M. Gómez, “Winter Morning,” 2023, color photograph. Courtesy of the artist

Maybe that’s because, metaphorically speaking, around the world right now, there’s too much that is dark and harrowing unfolding and obscuring the kind of light — and lightness — that are so vital to the health and well-being of the human spirit. Who needs anymore darkness of any kind?

Simply put, there is too much war, corruption, injustice, mendacity, violence, aggression, incivility, and disrespect going around. Enough with the war-making and destruction, already! Where are the peace-makers? Is there any so-called or self-styled leader — don’t look for any politician to fit this bill — who has the courage to demand ceasefires wherever guns are shooting, and bombs are falling, and to call for some non-violent, civil talking, listening, and negotiating that might lead to peace?

Edward M. Gómez, “Winter, in the Tunnel,” 2023, color photograph. Courtesy of the artist

Without becoming religious about it but, yes, with genuine spiritual concerns in mind (religion and spirituality are not synonymous), is there anyone out there among democratically elected officials or dictatorial despots who just might be willing and able to give peace-talking a chance? Someone who might be willing, able, and courageous enough to lead his or her people out of darkness and into the light of tolerance, justice, truth — whaddat? — and, well, just getting along?

Edward M. Gómez, “Morning Window,” 2023, color photograph. Courtesy of the artist

brutjournal readers know that this publication is deeply interested in the innate capacity artists and creative types of all stripes have to serve as guides, teachers, or illuminators, leading their audiences toward the light of truth and understanding that art, uniquely, in inexplicable ways, can reveal. Do artists also have an obligation or a responsibility to perform such a role?

In a troubled world like the one we’re living in today, what are the roles and functions of art and artists, or, perhaps more precisely, what can or should they be? Is it enough for art to be aesthetically stimulating and pleasing, or can or should it do more? Without sliding into the waters of the political-polemical, which can render their creations mere propaganda, how can or should art and artists become engaged and relevant to the communities and the broader cultures or environments from which they emerge while still expressing their creators’ individual visions?

Bill Westmoreland, “Winter Light, Northeastern Pennsylvania,” 2023, color photograph. Courtesy of the artist

Hey brother, got a light?

Leonard Cohen: “There is a crack in everything; that’s how the light gets in.”

Desmond Tutu: “Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness.”

Martin Luther King, Jr.: “Only in the darkness can you see the stars.”

Of course, there’s an alternative to griping about or cursing the darkness. Like the late Muhammad Ali, one can always try to beat it at its own game. The world-famous boxer once quipped, “I’m so fast that last night I turned off the light switch in my hotel room and was in bed before the room was dark.”

Wherever the action is — wherever artists, thinkers, tinkerers, or other would-be problem-solvers and generous spirits might be trying to carve paths toward the light of love, peace, and understanding, we’re all for such efforts. We wish them success — and hope we’ll all be rewarded by them. Don’t leave us in the dark!

Edward M. Gómez, “Lanterns,” 2023, color photograph. Courtesy of the artist