Sunday, September 10, 2006

working at creating

It seems to me sometimes that calling myself a Christian artist is an oximoron. It would be better said either, "I'm an artist who is also a Christian, or a Christian who is also an artist". Even still, the two terms seem to me sometimes, oftentimes, to be mutually exclusive and almost impossible to reconcile. An artist is someone who is defined by self, self-expression. A Christian is someone who is defined as self-less, whose individualism is lived out through another life, Christ. I find myself on the terminal hamster wheel of trying to find out where one begins and the other ends, to join the two. I admit my great admiration for artists who are apparently above the opinions of others and the critics. They seem fearless and push their insides out for all the world to see. Their work matures from year to year whether seen or unseen, popular or not, and in retrospect looks like a cohesive whole, completely original and truthful. High on my list as well are those whose skills are unquestionably superior, and they choose to spend those skills on work that is superrealistic-it appears familiar, evokes emotion, touches the heart, and yet is not immediately visually referenced. It is new without trying to be just that. It is genuinely original.

I wonder where that all comes from. I tend to overanalyse the importance of what I do, yet unless a thing has intrinsic value in the doing, why do it? What makes art important, worthwhile, significant, worth the doing? Sometimes generations must pass before certain works are viewed as significant at all. I tend to be much more comfortable with the obvious-a picture that pleases someone, fulfills a need and brings in enough money to be worth the effort. In someone else's book that would classify me as an artisan, not an artist. I am a tradesperson. The intrinsic value of my work is lacking to society at large. The work has value only to the purchaser, and the piece is tailored to certain specifications, the first consideration not being my stamp of creative genius. Norman Rockwell's work was largely panned by the art gods of his day, and he got his revenge by being the best selling illustrator of all time. No one now doubts the originality of his hand, nor the intrinsic value of his signature on a piece of work. I most certainly do not compare myself to Norman Rockwell. But therein lies the struggle-who is to say what is of value? Who makes that judgement call?

In the end I have decided there is plenty of room for originality in a life lived through another. In fact, I would say having the Creator of the Universe guiding me is a huge motivator to find my path and niche in His backyard. But I've decided to qualify what I do by that very guidance. It is all too easy to rely heavily on one's own view of life, and one's own creation-it can become an idol. I can't judge other artist's lives and work. I only know what a tremendous struggle it is not to become Narcissus viewing your own work. Objectivity can fly out the window and a sort of self-imposed prison rises up when surrounded by those canvases and frames. Paranoid thoughts and feelings begin to happen. You question yourself relentlessly, obssess about what to do as though nothing else matters. I think internally we've all become the guy sporting a five o'clock shadow in a dirty bathrobe with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth, mumbling incoherently. If I'm in the middle of something and even the sound of muffled voices comes through the door, I want to scream and throw my brushes. Every nerve is alive. It is critical, and so important, to be able to detach from the work. And then in the end leave the significance of that work to the One who gave the gift in the first place. I calm my wailing creative child by thinking such thoughts and reminding myself of the priceless treasure God did deem me worthy to steward, to follow in His footsteps.


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