I stood three feet from the wall in the quiet gallery, the painting in front of me gritty with raw emotion. I wanted to step even closer, and I would have if I thought it was acceptable.
I couldn’t pull my eyes away until I had taken in the whole scene. The woman in the painting sat close enough to me that I could reach out and touch her. She was hunched forward with her arms curled into a tight hug around her knees. The pain in her expression and the lifeless body in the distance unmistakably communicated gut-wrenching evil. I read the didactic panel next to the painting, and the story behind the painting sealed its presence within me. I don’t remember the artist’s name, but I remember his reason for painting: to tell a story of injustice. I walked away with thoughts swirling.
Pain. Evil. Injustice.
The next room held American Chronicles: The Art of Norman Rockwell.
To be honest, it’s what I’d come to see. And I wanted to laugh now at how meaningless the work seemed in contrast to what I’d just left behind. But as I stepped closer, I noticed his work was not the happy-go-lucky picture of the American Dream I had expected to find.
The brokenness looked different. Less gritty. Almost wrapped up in a shiny, ironic bow. But it was there. And it looked a lot like striving and hiding the truth.
That day in the art gallery, I discovered a side to art that I hadn’t seen before. Just like beauty is in the eye of the beholder, I’d assumed that good art was in the eye of the beholder. Artwork was either good or it wasn’t. Either it made you happy or it did not. Either you’d hang it in your home or you wouldn’t. It was beautiful or it wasn’t.
If that’s the truth, the artist’s sole purpose is to seek approval and praise in her work, and she opens herself up to criticism and failure when she releases her work into the world.
But I don’t buy that lie anymore. The artist’s sole purpose is to be brave enough to create for the outside world what already exists inside her. She invites us into the story she’s living within this world God created. Her art either speaks of His goodness because she is His daughter, or it speaks of our depraved souls because that’s where she finds herself. Caught up in the brokenness, searching for more.
When art reveals the broken things it makes a place in our soul to discover, or rediscover, our everlasting need for God the Father. When art reveals the beautiful things it makes a place in our soul to worship our Creator God.
God gives each of us particular skills to be developed and practiced and molded and refined. He has good work in mind for each of us, and he surely does the heavy lifting. But it takes the work of the artist to wrestle her talent into submission. To arrange her life in such a manner that discipline and commitment and determination can carry the work of her life, her art, to completion.
And when she releases her art into the world, God can use it to change things.
The artist with the gift of words crafts her characters and sets the scenery just so. She creates a world outside reality, and the words on the page point me to my need for Jesus. At the age of twelve, God used her words to usher me into His kingdom.
The passionate painter uses Instagram to share her work AND her need for Jesus. And when my shipment of her work arrives and I open the box, God uses her art to usher me into His presence. Peace filled the room and I felt Jesus close.
Even the secular vocalist with the voice of an angel attests to a higher power. Her lyrics may not be holy, but the Holy One gave her that voice and uses it to usher me into worship. I’m often moved to tears when I hear it. And I pray for her soul because I’m pretty sure she’d fit right in with the heavenly hosts.
God has gifted us with artists made in His image. And their art speaks to us of our need for beauty and goodness…and Glory.
Art surely makes room in our souls to yearn for more of God, the perfect Artist.
This article is part of our series on The Hospitality Of Art. Find more from this series HERE.