Dr. Gayle Beebe: college president, author, minister and an artistic/cultural connoisseur?
This past week, the Arts & Entertainment section had a conversation with Westmont’s president about his personal favorites in music, art, movies and books and how they informed the Gayle Beebe we know today.
Horizon: If you had to pick your favorite movies, in no particular order, what would they be, and why?
President Beebe: Shawshank Redemption offers amazing insight into the criminal justice system, how often we get it wrong, and the human longing to be free of constraint and open to pursuing self-fulfillment.
Places in the Heart has some of the most poignant insights on race through the mouthpiece of the blind man played by John Malkovich. It is through Malkovich that we ‘see’ Sally Field’s beauty, identify the townsmen who are bankers by day and Klansmen by night, and enjoy a touch of magic realism in the genre pioneered by Gabriel Garcia Marquez in the closing “Communion” scene of the movie.
Amadeus shows the genius of Mozart and the all-consuming envy of the court composer, Salieri, who is the only one close enough to Mozart’s genius to show and tell us how truly great he was. It also shows us the all consuming gravity of ‘schadenfreude’ and how this unique form of envy can destroy you.
The Bourne Trilogy helps me anticipate what’s coming next in meetings with Noah Good [WCSA President]. Don’t be fooled by his haircut.
H: Those are all excellent choices, and we’ll make sure to watch out for Mr. Good in the future. Could you also tell us your favorite albums, and why?
Pres. Beebe: Elton John’s [self-titled album features] just a tremendous musician with the haunting, desperate poetry of a person longing to find the good life.
Bob Dylan[‘s] “Blowin’ in the Wind” reminds me of the hopes and dreams of the 60s that came crashing down in a turbid mass of despair. He would find renewal in a sea of musical innovations that are startling in their variety and compelling in their authenticity.
“[Greatest Hits:] Simon and Garfunkel” just reminds me of the three years I lived on the East Coast when I was a graduate student at Princeton Theological Seminary. We went to NYC at least once a month and often centered our excursions on the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Central Park.
H: Some classic cuts right there. As a kind of extension to the question, do you have a memorable moment at a concert you would like to share?
Pres. Beebe: [That would have to be a] toss up between Neil Diamond — the first date with my wife — and the Vienna Orchestra playing Mozart in the Vienna Statehouse in 2010, also with my wife.
H: Those both sound like wonderful experiences you two got to share together. Shifting gears a bit, do you have any works of visual art that you keep coming back to?
Pres. Beebe: Raphael’s “The School of Athens” has all my favorite pre-Christian philosophers.
Michelangelo’s “David” is just stunning in its mastery and precision, but is confusing in its depiction of David’s nudity.
Renoir’s “Girl with a Watering Can“ reminds me of one of my daughters, but also reminds me of the first time I saw it in the National Gallery. I was visiting DC from Princeton and had four hours to kill, so I went to the National Gallery. As I was standing there, reading my “Art and Artists” book by Peter and Linda Murray, I noticed a young adult woman crying quietly to herself. In a gesture of empathy I asked if she was okay or needed help. She proceeded to tell me her nine-year-old daughter had recently died of cancer and the painting reminded her of her loss. Even though I was years away from being a parent, the incident saddened me then and still saddens me today. There are few things harder for me to understand than the suffering of children.
Rodin’s “The Thinker” is famous. Many of Rodin’s lesser known works can be found on the second floor of the Maryhill Museum 100 miles east of Portland in the Columbia River Gorge. When we drive from Portland to Coeur D’Alene for family reunion, we frequently stop there to see the museum and also to ponder the motives of Sam Hill, Mary’s husband who built a life-size replica of Stonehenge as a protest against the atrocities of war. On two different occasions, we’ve had relatives get married at the Museum, which has also endeared its holdings to me.
Bernini’s Altar in St. Peter’s Basilica, with natural light flooding in from above, is simply the most transcendent experience I have ever had in a church. It is simply glorious. Plato once said, “Beauty is the only spiritual essence we love instinctively by our nature and we should use it as an avenue to the Transcendent Good.” Early Christian thinkers converted this to God. The first time I encountered it, and every time since, I am overwhelmed with the power, presence, and mystery of God.
H: Thank you for sharing that, it’s always a joy to hear about each other’s experiences with art. Finally, can you share with us your favorite pieces of both fiction and non-fiction?
Pres. Beebe: [My favorite pieces of fiction have to be] John Steinbeck’s East of Eden and Cannery Row.
The novels by Steinbeck are filled with Biblical allusions I enjoy. In Cannery Row, Steinbeck takes one of the parables of Jesus and contemporizes it by asking, “What doth it profit a man to gain the whole world and return to his mansion with a gastric ulcer, a blown prostrate and bifocals?” In East of Eden, he explores the meaning of human freedom as it is treated in Genesis 3 and offers one of the most enjoyable reflections on this text I’ve ever read.
[For non-fiction,] Pascal’s “Pensees” is the single most important book in my life, after the Bible, and was significant in bringing me to the full wealth of conviction about my Christian faith. I am forever indebted to Dr. Diogenes Allen, my thesis advisor at Princeton who introduced me to Pascal.
H: Once again, those are a collection of meaningful and insightful choices. Thank you again for sharing with us today!