Life as Art

Milwaukee Art
Cornelia Parker’s “Edge of England” in the Milwaukee Art Museum

Art, as I would define it, is the creation of something beautiful and/or meaningful through imagination and skill.  This definition is broad enough to encompass everyone as an artist.  Each person mirrors the Divine Artist in some unique or special way through the ways in which they imaginatively and skillfully live their lives.  Where there is no art, there is no hope.  Where art exists, there are possibility and life.  None of us could have made it this far in the process of our jobs, our families, let alone in life, without making great art.  Art is how we make sense of things and form our views of the world.  Art is both subject and object – being both formed and forming us.  Life cannot exist without art because we as people are both created and creative in all we think, feel, and do.

I say all this mostly because recently being at my local art museum helped me to remember how vital it is to be an artist, and that there is no other artist like me (or you).  The museum enabled me to reconnect with the vast imagination within, as I was reminded how large the world of Tim is and how much that inner world has always sought to make beautiful and meaningful connections with others – to make a difference.

I was also reminded of the ways in which art impacts us.  What is beauty to one is disgust in another; and, what is repulsive to one is awe in the other – and everything in between.  Yet, in every work of art we are likely to find both charm and ugliness.  That reminder helps me to reflect on a recent patient visit I had in the hospital.  His story was not too pleasant to me.  I was repulsed by many of the patient’s decisions throughout his life.  Yet, in the moment, I chose to embrace the whole painting in front of me – which included the beauty and awe of his desire for connection, forgiveness, and reconciliation.  At the time, I wasn’t sure I was doing much of anything – my own art seemed rather imperfect and unseemly.  When the visit came to an ending, the patient remarked, “Thank you for reminding me of my God and bringing me closer to him.”  Into the mix all along was the Divine Artist, creating something gracious between us.  If this was to be depicted in an actual art object, that object would include both strange beauty and repugnant representation.  The question is: Will the eye of the beholder see only one, or see both?  The answer to that question is the answer to whether we are willing and able to see the full scope of any person in front of us.  And, like an art object, we could likely sit for hours staring and observing, finding new awareness and insights, and, thus, new meaning – in both of us.

A teaching I appreciate from my Orthodox Christian friends is that every person is a “living icon,” that is, everyone is a hand-crafted image of Christ.  Even more than that, everyone is still being formed by God into a unique and special icon.  In this view of Christianity, a person’s highest calling is to simply cooperate with the Divine Artist – God is the Potter and I am the clay.  I would describe our part as being “actively passive.”  We neither act as we see fit and just trust God will direct us, nor do we sit and simply wait for God to do something.  Rather we are actively passive.  An artist waits for inspiration – and in the meantime he/she intentionally pokes around for ways to be inspired.  And when the inspiration comes, the work ensues – with a rhythm of action coupled with taking time to step back and see the big picture before engaging again.

What I am suggesting is that God has divine actions and divine reflections in a rhythm of formation and transformation of all human creatures.  God has both given us everything we need for life and godliness in this present age and is continuously weaving life-giving grace into the fabric of our everyday lives.  We are icons, and we are being crafted into icons.  To put it another way, we are human beings and are continuously being made into humans.  The care we receive is the care we give.