Saturday, January 20, 2007

Vision


Sinuous shadows always intrigue me. I took the source photo for this one last summer at a paint-out in the valley. I saw the delicious shadow shapes as soon as I arrived and quickly stepped out of the car, camera in hand, to make sure the earliest sun was recorded. There’s a brilliant intensity to the light first thing in the morning that is so seductive.

I took the photo into Elements and played with it, changing the colors and intensifying the contrasts. I blurred it so that I couldn’t see anything but the light and dark shapes and that liquid turquoise color. I find that blurring it to the point that I can’t see any of the details helps me think in terms of shapes defined by value, enhanced by color. Of course, all I have to do is take off my glasses and place the photo across the room. I’m decidedly nearsighted, still able to read the fine print without glasses, but my distance vision is bad.

I painted it on a new product that Richeson sent me, Gatorboard covered with a gesso and pumice coating. This one was 8x10” and bright white. I like the way the brilliant white allows the colors to sing. The white by the dark tree has been added, because I darkened the sky with a few swift strokes of pale blue. I recomposed the trees on the right side, adding some in front of the rest to balance the composition, and the building has some bumps and bulges that just happened, but they appealed to me because I often see things bleeding into each other that way. It’s probably a fault in my vision, which is pretty bad.

I think the Lord arranges it so that all of us see things a bit differently, sometimes by changing our eyesight. I remember as a 13-year-old looking up at the moon. It was a time when all of America looked at the moon. The ‘space race’ was on, and President Kennedy had told us we’d actually get there one day! I saw several overlapping shapes, which I mentioned to my parents. As you can imagine, they hauled me into an optometrist pretty quickly. I still think a moon made with four or five overlapping circles is far more interesting than the standard one, but at least this is a result of choice and not a mere limitation.

God is good at that. He gives us choices, shows us things in different lights, from differing angles, even with different vision. Take off or put on your glasses and look at the world—it changes things. What a visual treat!

It’s not always easy to look at a limitation as an opportunity. I know that as I age I have to force myself to thank God for the parts that still work. Maybe I should stop and think a little more closely about what the parts that don’t work do for me, such as my nearsighted eyes, instead of always thinking in the negative. He works all things together for good in the lives of those who believe and obey Him, so even bad vision is a benefit when it’s used to advantage and appreciated for what it is.

Wednesday, January 3, 2007

Isaiah 66:2-4: A Christian (Who is an Artist)

Have you ever made a sacrifice to God and later found out it was one in which He didn’t delight? I started to think about that today as I read this section in the book of Isaiah. The Lord is speaking of sacrifices that He finds abominable—human sacrifice among them—but I stopped short when I reached this verse, “…And chose that in which I do not delight.” People were going about the rituals of the day with a laissez-faire attitude, not a heart level gift to God. I want to delight God, don’t you? I’m not planning any human sacrifices, so I don’t think God will find what I give abominable, but I want what I give Him to be good and pleasing.

Okay, I know that Jesus gave Himself as the perfect sacrifice for all my sin, so I don’t have any debt to God that way, but this bit of verse in Isaiah stopped me cold because the Lord pretty clearly and succinctly defined what He wants up in verse 2, “But on this one will I look: on him who is poor and of a contrite spirit, and who trembles at My word.” Clearly the point here is that it isn’t just what you do but how you do it that matters to God. It would be fairly easy to stop there and just think, oh good, I’m okay. I love God. Right?

As an artist, early on I decided that my artwork was to be sacrificed to God. (I hope you see my problem in that sentence alone. It’s there, trust me.) At first I thought it meant my paintings had to look a certain way. If I say “Christian art” to you, what kind of look pops into your mind? Is it figurative work illustrating great stories from the Bible? Usually we think of narratives, not paintings of the landscape. There are certainly some schools of art that have tried to paint ‘moral landscapes’, but I wanted my artwork to show the incredible and overwhelming change that had occurred in my life. I began by writing Scriptural phrases in charcoal beneath my paintings. As I sketched I would scribble words like ‘grace’ or ‘sanctification’ or other godly sounding, high-falutin’ words on my paper, but as I applied pastel to the surface the words were obscured. That didn’t make much impact. I then decided that the look of my work wouldn’t change but I could surely make an impact by witnessing to my faith in what I said, particularly on my web page. I redeemed the work by telling people my beliefs. (Maybe you can see the flaw here, too.) That was good, of course, but I still felt dissatisfied. I wanted what God was doing in my life to show in my work. I decided to try to paint figurative work, which has so far met with modest success. I still find that goal interesting and provocative, but it hasn't made any real impact on my painting, and hasn’t resulted in more overtly Christian looking artwork.

I asked myself over and over why I felt so dissatisfied with what my artwork expressed, why the deep feelings and life-changing truths never seemed to show in my paintings. Art is supposed to be an expression of the soul of the artist, so why was this such a disappointing and unsatisfactory spot in my life? God was making His mark in so many other ways, using me to speak about my beliefs, to minister to women, even to help bring others to a newfound faith, but my art seemed to be an ‘also-ran’, tacked on to the wagon of my life like a rope trailing behind.

I can’t tell you when the realization dawned. There’s no one ‘ah ha’ moment to be shared. It’s just that over the years God has slowly explained this to me through many avenues. Don’t be too shocked when I tell you that my artwork is not the expression of my soul, as I was taught to think. That’s far too narcissistic for a Christian. But one day on the radio a teacher I admire and respect, Haddon Robinson, explained quite clearly something that summed up my understanding. He said that the word Christian should not be used as an adjective but as a noun. Not Christian artist, not Christian prefacing anything—instead it must be ‘a Christian who is…’ The object is to be a Christian, not to be something modified by being a Christian. Do you see the difference here? I’m a Christian who is an artist. He is a Christian who is a businessman. She is a Christian who is a mom. You are a Christian who is…anything you are.

So now you see the problem in those two sentences I pointed out above. I was, in essence, trying to tack Christian onto my work as an adjective, rather than realizing that as a Christian all I do is from and through Him. “But on this one will I look: on him who is poor and of a contrite spirit, and who trembles at My word.” As a worshiper I come with nothing, understanding that what I have and what I bring to God is nothing. So you see, I was trying to make my art into a sacrifice to God by endowing it with something visible, but in so doing I was the one defining the sacrifice. God, on the other hand, wants all I do, including my art, to be done with a heart for Him. It’s easy to define what I’m willing to sacrifice to God, yet entirely miss what He’s asking of me.

God refuses to be a modifier to my life. He insists on being the sole motivator. Therefore all I am is His, including what I do.

I’m a Christian (who is an artist) and that clearly delights God!