Artists I admire: Charles M. Schulz

When I was a kid, our local library had a large number of Peanuts books, collections of comic strips that appeared in syndication and were then collected and anthologized in these books. I loved reading those books because I learned more about the characters, their pasts, and why they behaved in the comic strip I would see each week in the Sunday newspaper.

I also religiously watched A Charlie Brown Christmas special on television every year. At that point in time it was barely a decade old. This year that special show celebrated its 50th anniversary. Each year I still try to watch the show, but I own it in DVD and watch when it's convenient for me. This year, that was this past Wednesday evening, the night before I traveled down to my family for our Christmas celebrations. I sat down with my cat Buster, some dinner, and a cocktail, and watched the saga of Charlie Brown and his friends as they tried to navigate the growing commercialism of Christmas. As I took in all the familiar scenes, I couldn't help but notice that we're still dealing with so many of the same questions now, 50 years later.

At that famous moment when Charlie Brown stands on stage and yells, "Isn't there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?", Linus steps forward and offers his explanation, only after asking, "Lights, please?" And then he proceeds to tell us what we need to hear. When the bustle takes it out of our hustle, we need to remember Linus and his message. Not because it's a religious message, but rather because it illustrates just how far removed we've gotten from the intentions of Christmas.

In his book Theatre: The Rediscovery of Style, the French theatre director Michel Saint-Denis wrote about how when a play has style, it transcends age and time because it has quality. He used this description of style to explain why we still produce Shakespeare's plays 400 years after they were first written. I venture to say that we continue to watch A Charlie Brown Christmas and read the comic for the same reason. Charles M. Schulz found some way of showing us something about ourselves that truly resonated all those years ago and continues to resonate today. The questions he raised in the television special and in the syndicated comic strip won't go away. Even when they're specific, about something like Christmas, we still find a way to relate that experience to the larger world, regardless of religious practice. Specificity leads to universality, not the other way around.

For reminding us what Christmas is all about for 50 years and for allowing children to be the ones to say what we all really needs to know, through their innocence and their learning, Charles M. Schulz is the artist I admire this week.