7.04.2010

Life and Art

I've been contemplating the role art plays in our world and in my life. It's one of those topics that quite frequently floats in and out of my mind and is hard to capture. Such as the other day when it had finally stopped raining (it's July and summer has arrived). Everywhere I looked, my eyes were filled with light and color. The the deep green bay leaf tree in our back yard shined so brightly in the sun that its leaves looked white. A little purple pansie in a tiny, wine glass shaped vase set on my mom's kitchen window was so beautiful that I couldn't take my eyes off it. I knew these encounters with beauty would be brief and I could not stare forever. All I could do to capture what moved me, was try to come up with words to describe the moment and words are just words.

Art is an attempt at capturing, as Philip Yancey wrote in the February 2009 issue of First Things, "a glorious space not on earth, a moment of time not in time." It is, or ought to be, a reflection on God. And just as God is hard to capture, even in the human heart, so too, art often falls short. But once in a while, briefly, I brush up with a piece of art (music, writing or painting) that fills my soul. Its like that first breath of cold air in early fall. It catches in my chest for just a moment and I come alive. For an instance there is clarity in my thinking and my current reality is set aside. It is as if I am in the presence of God and it always makes me want to weep. Not because I'm sad but because I am distracted, from what is True, most of the time. Art captures life as it is, but somehow touches on Truth beyond our human understanding.

Interestingly, to me anyway, most captivating moments of art do not come after long periods of happiness and peace. They will come after the rain, or after a long, hot, dry summer. In order to appreciate the beauty of art, it must come out of grime and uncomfortableness. I can name numerous artists whose lives were less than happy. Van Gogh, for instance and one of my favorite artists, was crazy enough to cut off his ear and send it to his lost love. Many singers and actors have died of a drug overdose or suicide, signs that life for them was not all rainbows and roses. It seems to me that people who live through darkness and suffering are most often the ones who produce the most glorious works of art. This forces me to conclude that suffering, mystery though it is, is necessary for guiding our hearts and minds to knowing God.

Imagine if the beach was always sunny and perfectly warm and agates were easily discovered. What if there were no foggy, windy days? Could we appreciate the beauty or would we grow tired of it? If my life did not have moments, days or even years of suffering, would I appreciate the good times? And if times were only good, would I have a desire to know God?

I'm not sure how to conclude this post because there is so much more to say. But, words are words. Even Michelangelo, one of the greatest artists of all time, said at the end of his life:

So now, from this mad passion
which made me take art for an idol and king
I have learnt the burden of error that it bore...
The world's frivolities have robbed me of the time
That I was given for reflecting upon God.

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