Mr. Holland’s Opus, Revisited

An Alternative Viewpoint

Photo by Element5 Digital on Unsplash

At this point I can’t recall exactly what it was I was looking for when I stumbled up this essay by Thomas Larson. Titled Fellow Teachers, We Are Not Mr. Holland, it stopped me in my tracks.

Larson makes no bones about it. He disliked the film Mr. Holland Opus, and since I’d always found it a heroic and uplifting film I felt compelled to take in another perspective. What so wrong about a man who sublimates the personal passions of idealistic youth to assume the adult responsibilities of parenting, self-sacrifice, and faithfulness? Larson takes aim and fires an on target salvo.

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“Blechh!” Illustration by the author.

The film’s career-ending glory and applause, while heartfelt, is unjustified: thirty years to write one five-minute symphony? It’s demeaning to Mr. Holland to suggest that he did not have the courage to create. It is also demeaning to suggest that his teaching got in the way of his composition. For many artist-teachers, their work with students does not erase but rather enhances what they do with their evenings and weekends.

Of course a few artists do make a living not teaching. But those people are supported by a market that draws out the artist’s commercial choices. The serious composer, the classical musician, the poet, the choreographer, the performance artist-all must teach in our society because their endeavors go unsupported by the marketplace.

Besides, commercially successful artists are few. The vast majority of creative and artistic people in America work at other jobs or else teach their craft. In either case, if they are true creators, then their creative side occupies a major part of their lives. If artists teach, they are not, as the film suggests, less dedicated because they mind their artistic fires. On the contrary. They are enlivened and deepened by the paradox of personal and professional fulfillment, a finer truth which Mr. Holland’s Opus fails to explore.

Larson makes many good points in his essay, but this one applies to most professions and is most excellent. When we make a living doing something else, the art we create can be more “true” to one’s inner vision as we’re not necessarily married to the need to sell our work to survive. This is a liberating insight, once understood rightly.

And Larson’s main point above is especially true, that artists and writers can use their work experiences as grist for the mill, logs for the fire, building materials for the dream. Scott Adams could never have created Dilbert had he been exempt from having to work because he was independently wealthy. The culture he was immersed in became the fertilizer for his imagination.

What’s your passion? Don’t make excuses. Make progress.

An avid reader who writes about arts, culture, literature & other life obsessions. @ennyman3 Look for my books on Amazon

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