Recently, a newly formed artist's collective/group (we're not sure yet exactly what we are) that I'm involved in had a discussion about art in the life of a Christian. When we began discussing our personal goals for our art, I shared a goal of mine that has remained unmet for many years (something common among many kinds of artists, I'm told): Publication.
But, as I told the group, I've recently accepted that publication might not be my highest goal. I've taken up writing music again in the past year and I've found great satisfaction in sharing that music with my small church group and community. I still have grandiose and mostly unrealistic desires of future success but I'm trying to remain focused on creating for the church, being open to something beyond didactic or formulaic writing, hoping to be a vessel for art that shows the truth and beauty of God.
I have many artist friends who, while some having had commercial success, are committing seemingly small acts of art in their homes and communities.
I am so moved by their visual art, their music, their poetry and essays. There are streams of light and color that are released into the world of my mind's eye when I encounter such true art.
And so I wonder.
Is there something just as significant in works of art that are only seen by a few if any at all?
I was very moved by just such an act of art done by a neighbor, a visual artist who spent hours taking apart his small store-bought sketchbook, dyeing it with tea and reassembling it into a beautiful aged-looking book of his card-sized sketches and drawings.
No one but his wife and the rest of us have seen such a book.
And yet, there is something important in that creation.
Madeleine L'Engle speaks about this act of art in her book Walking on Water. For L'Engle, the true artist must be willing to be one thing primarily:
For L'Engle, the artist becomes a birth-giver, a vessel for the work of God or the work of God in the world. And here L'Engle's picture of obedience is like Mary, the mother of Jesus in her obedience to the Spirit of God, who asked her to be his bearer of the Messiah.
When the "work of art...says, "'Here I am. Enflesh me. Give birth to me.' And the artist either says, 'My soul doth magnify the Lord.' and willingly becomes the bearer of the work, or refuses."
L'Engle says the artist should be "obedient to the work...whether it is a work of great genius or something very small."**
And so in these seemingly small acts of creation, obedience is a worthier goal. For if obedience is our job, the rest is up to God.
If we have publication, adulation and awards in our future, God help us through it.
And if smallness is His goal then maybe His are the only eyes and ears we need to worry about.
*The painting at the top was done by my grandmother, who took up painting in her sixties. Though never sold or seen by an audience, her works of art are priceless to her family
**quotes from Madeleine L'Engle's Walking on Water, 2001, Waterbrook Press, pg 9-10.