Over the past year I’ve tried several times to put into words the point of art. Or to put it another way, why is art more than just a hobby? What is its greater or spiritual use? I don’t think I have THE answer, or if there even is one, but I wanted to share some thoughts, and I’d love to hear yours!
I know in my gut that art has a profound use and that the world would be pretty bleak without it. Art undoubtedly adds aesthetically to the world, but is that it? It’s not exactly an insignificant role (think of how Heaven is described in the Writings: bursting with beauty of all kinds), but I think there’s more. Creating art or being an artist can easily look and feel like a luxurious hobby next to more “useful” or worthy occupations (doctors, teachers, ministers, counsellors, orphanage managers… to name a few of my most easily guilt-tripping ones). Now comparing the use of relative jobs is a losing game from the beginning, especially in a world which focuses on monetary and external value. Still, this question of arts’ USE is one I’ve pondered and enjoyed seeking to find a satisfying answer to.
While thinking about this question, I came upon this psalm, a jubilant celebration of the Lord’s creation.
“O Lord, how manifold are Your works!
In wisdom You have made them all.
The earth is full of Your possessions—
This great and wide sea,
In which are innumerable teeming things,
Living things both small and great.”
Comparing human creations to the Lord’s creation is perhaps ambitious. However, looking at Creation and the joy, colour, and variety with which the Lord made the natural world, I experience such a clear call to participate in the joy of creation. The joy in beauty, nuance, texture, and really stopping to notice the intricacy of our surroundings. Art, in any form, requires us to stop and see and feel in order to appreciate it. We have to be present in the world rather than immersed in the bubble of ME. We cannot hope to create like the Lord does, and I don’t think most artists are trying to, but it does feel a bit like celebrating what He did when we stop and notice it enough to try and understand, embody, convey, or capture what it means, and to create a vehicle through which others can experience that meaning.
But even if it is a celebration, that still feels like a bit of a cop out answer. I believe that what is most powerful about art is that it captures something True. Truth comes on all levels, from the most natural and tangible, to the most elevated and profound. In painting (my medium) these can be truths as simple as the curve of a birds wing, or as grand as the awesome beauty of a landscape, as nuanced as a person’s expression, as tender as a human connection. And when something true is depicted, it reaches us and uplifts us, challenges us, touches us. It shows us something about the world, human nature, creation, life. And as human beings this enriches us, and, I believe, brings us closer to the Lord.
I think when we really engage with art we have to seek to understand something outside of ourselves, something relatable, something challenging, something comforting, something inspiring: something real. Art has the ability to convey these ideas, feelings, these understandings, that are bigger than any one of us, and must inevitably direct us to their only source: the Lord.
I don’t claim that my art has any such lofty abilities, but it is ideas like this that keep me painting, that give me the deep desire to create for something that is bigger than honoring my own skills or achievements. They help me to feel that in creating art, I’m forcing myself to rejoice in the Lord, remember to notice Him, and learn from Him.
“May the glory of the Lord endure forever;
May the Lord rejoice in His works.
He looks on the earth, and it trembles;
He touches the hills, and they smoke.
I will sing to the Lord as long as I live;
I will sing praise to my God while I have my being.
May my meditation be sweet to Him;
I will be glad in the Lord.”
This is such a big topic and there is so much to say. What are your thoughts, fellow artists, creators, human beings?