An Artist in the Dark | Comment Magazine | Cardus

An article concerning spiritual darkness and its effects on the creativity of artists: some create many of their best works in dark times; others cannot create at all. Author Sørina Higgins ends the article with this glimmer of hope:

Darkness is not the end of the story. Perhaps God is making art of us when we cannot make art: St. John wrote that “It is just as if some painter were painting or dyeing a face; if the sitter were to move because he desired to do something, he would prevent the painter from accomplishing anything.” Darkness and desolation are often only identifiable in retrospect, after they have let go their grip. It is then that the curse becomes a blessing and the negation becomes a gift.

Beauty in an Ugly Time | Books and Culture

Beauty in an Ugly Time | Books and Culture

An article by David Lyle Jeffrey addressing the deeply embedded preoccupation with human suffering prevalent in modernist art. He provides an analysis of Rouault and Chagall, each an example of an artist engaged with the horrifying reality of suffering and the redemptive reality of God’s love for us and his offer of life to us.

Chagall’s prophetic art is thus a splendid complement to the confessional work of Rouault. Rouault invites us to give up our masks, to accept the identification that Christ’s suffering affords as the “true image” of God’s love for us. Chagall’s work encourages us to choose life, and to nourish ourselves deeply, whether by day or by night, in the Word of the One who bade us to live in the joy of his giving. Each series is striking; when seen together we know how joy is an answer to sorrow, and beauty is made all the more urgent a choice when so much ugliness abounds.

Because I Have To | Comment Magazine | Cardus

Because I Have To | Comment Magazine | Cardus

Interview with Ned Bustard, writer, and owner of an illustration and graphic design firm called World’s End Images, on “making art to the glory of God.”

Music as “Hard, Bodily Work”

In his book Rainbows for the Fallen World, Calvin Seerveld draws attention to the possible misappropriation of the creative nature of God as the straightforward model of our creative nature (26).  While I’m not sure I agree with him that the relationship between God as Creator and man as creative is always so misleading that it over-spiritualizes and individualizes the nature of artistic activity, he brings up the excellent point that it may lead us to “overlook[] the limited, serviceable, craftsmanship character of artistic activity” (26).  He proceeds to explain that a healthy understanding of art recognizes it as hard work that can be a legitimate vocation that must be embedded both in a community of artists and in the community of saints.

Although many of the performers around me seem to find themselves most at ease in a community of musicians, it can be tempting to consider oneself an autonomous agent, acquiring skills for one’s own, individual creativity.  I think this temptation may be strongest for composers, who are trying to create something entirely new.  But Christian performers and composers (and theorists) should not spiritualize their creative “genius” as only coming as a gift from God and needing no additional development; we all need the training and sharpening feedback of a musical community.

Musicians know that what they do is very difficult.  We are no strangers to long, late hours of practice, rife with muscular, mental, and often emotional fatigue.  But the end result at many a given performance appears effortless, almost like magic.  It is thus tempting for many to imagine music as an otherworldly field only comprehensible to and attainable by a select few.

We struggle when we feel that the body of believers around us has this attitude, or does not understand the energy and richness of what we do – i.e. if they ask us to leave off the complicated “classical” stuff and play something a little more in tune with the times, or if they assume that music is something we should just do in our spare time or should only do in church, etc.  At these moments, we find ourselves tempted to emotionally separate ourselves, or at least our musical selves, from the church, only expecting to grow musically in a community of musicians.

Certainly, the church needs to support artists; they function in a critical capacity, redeeming the culture through hard work and God-given talent, pouring out blood, sweat and tears into yet imperfect work that still hopes to acknowledge the turmoiled, sinful world around it and redirect it to the joy and hope of God’s saving work (Seerveld, 34-41… more later).  But we, as artists, cannot abandon the church either.  As difficult as it can be, we need to find ways to embed our whole selves in the church, to ground our thinking, our practice, our art in the solidity of the word of God and in the fellowship of the body of Christ.  We need to reach out and in love show our brothers and sisters more of what we do and why.  It seems to me that it is worth it to explain some of the difficulty we experience and some of the joy and beauty we encounter in our “classical” repertoire… why we think it gives glory to God in specific and unique ways.  So let us not separate any part of ourselves from Christ’s body, and let us work hard.

To begin with a quote…

I’m grateful that Bach’s Christianity was realized in both his conscious and subconscious mind.  But being a practising Christian is not part of the job description, and sometimes God chooses most peculiar people to be vessels of genius.  My mother used to sigh because her beloved Wagner was such a nasty man.  And I was horrified to have some students tell me that a lot of people actively dislike Robert Frost.  How does one separate the art from the artist?

I don’t think one does, and this poses a problem.  How do we reconcile atheism, drunkenness, sexual immorality, with strong, beautiful poetry, angelic music, transfigured painting?  We human beings don’t, and that’s all there is to it.  Dostoeyvsky’s magnificent theology is not always compatible with his agonized life.  Mozart wrote one of his merriest and most joyful pieces while he was frantic over his dying mother.  Mendelssohn, who helped give Bach to the world, was a Jew.

It’s all more than I can cope with–or, rather, it’s more than my conscious mind can cope with.  Jung says that we are far more than the part of ourselves we can know about, and that one of the most crippling errors of twentieth-century culture has been our tendency to limit ourselves to our intellect… The right hemisphere of the brain controls the left side of the body and the intuition, we are told; and the left hemisphere of the brain controls the right side of the body and the intellect.  And we’re afraid of that left, intuitive side…

From that misunderstood left comes prayer and poetry and song, and these have a healing power we are losing touch with in this technocratic age…

Maybe the job of the artist is to see through all of this strangeness to what really is, and that takes a lot of courage, and a strong faith in the validity of the artistic vision even if there is not a conscious faith in God…

‘Our identity is hidden, even from ourselves…. the doctrine that we are made after the image of God proclaims that the human being is fundamentally a mystery, a free spirit.  The creative artist is one who carries within him the wound of transcendence.  He is the sign that human beings are more than they are.’

~ from Walking on Water, by Madeleine L’Engle (125-128) (internal quote from Journey into Christ, by Alan Jones)